Qaumajuq opens space of healing, learning as Indigenous guests get sneak peek at Inuit art centre
Inuit, First Nations, Métis invited to see inaugural exhibit INUA ahead of opening to general public
There's a heat that hits when you walk through the front doors of the Winnipeg Art Gallery's Qaumajuq Inuit art centre, as sunlight reflects off a four-storey glass vault that displays thousands of carvings.
Seeing those cold stone depictions of hunters, wild animals and other scenes from the north, showcased across three floors of the 40,000-square-foot space, brings a sense of warmth to Janet Kanayok.
"For me, it's healing," says Kanayok, originally from Ulukhaktok, N.W.T. "We've been so homesick that it's really nice to be around our art, our ancestors and all the stories that [are] being told."
Small groups of Inuit, First Nation and Métis visitors were among the first members of the public to view some of the nearly 14,000-piece collection at Qaumajuq on Monday, as Indigenous guests were given a sneak peek.
Qaumajuq, which translates to "It is bright, it is lit" in Inuktitut, opens to the general public Saturday.
Four Inuk curators put together the inaugural exhibit INUA — a term that means "life force" or "spirit" in many Arctic dialects. As an acronym, it also stands for Inuit Nunangat Ungammuaktut Atautikkut — or "Inuit Moving Forward Together."
WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys said he hopes Qaumajuq helps do just that, while standing as a positive example of reconciliation in action.
"This is a model for the new museum: a space that's welcoming, respectful, safe, that responds specifically to the [Truth and Reconciliation Commission's] call to action for museums, that actually is coming to understand, 'What is the exercise of reconciliation, Indigenization, decolonization?'"
The TRC included four calls to actions for galleries and museums that urged collaboration with Indigenous communities moving forward.
Despite residing on the Prairies, the centre was designed with Inuit in mind as the target audience, while also intending to serve as an educational hub for all.
Jacqueline Lagasse said as a Métis woman, she wanted to learn more about Inuit culture and take advantage of the early viewing opportunity. She was blown away by the soapstone sculptures, but the sheer variety of other creations came as a surprise.
"That's the great thing about when you learn about another culture," she said. "Now I am seeing there is just a huge amount of other art that the artists have done, and it just opens your mind to all the possibilities."
WATCH | Pushing the limits of Inuit art:
INUA includes a series of immersive displays and installations that push the limits of what's conventionally thought of as Inuit art.
Installations of an entire cottage and a shipping container juxtapose life across the Arctic then and now, and show a scale in form unlike most of what the public has seen before.
Elaborately beaded seal-skin clothing is found near ornately-designed dolls. Tabletop sculptures eight decades old are displayed beside floor-to-ceiling scrolls and paintings.
Photographic portraits metres in height are positioned across from a seal skin space suit on the fourth floor.
Elder Raymond Mason from Peguis First Nation said despite the art's northern origin, he sees parallels in the imagery of caribou and the land.
"It really opened my eyes," said Mason. "It's good for the people, good for the community and good for our country."
Katherine Legrange, executive director of the Treaty 1 Nation Government, said Qaumajuq will help bring different communities together.
"This is the first opportunity that we've had to learn about the significant spiritual leaders from the Inuit, our Inuit cousins, and certainly in Treaty 1 we want to welcome and learn," she said.
The lead curator of INUA said with the centre housing Inuit art on Treaty 1 land and the home of the Métis Nation, it was important Indigenous people had the first look inside.
"This is a space for them now and going forward," said Dr. Heather Igloliorte. "They should get to see themselves represented here."
She wants Qaumajuq to be a place where new art can grow and flourish, while also inviting people to look back at history.
With files from Stephanie Cram