Kunuk writes catalogue for Inuit show now in Santa Fe

An exhibit of 70 works from Nunavut has opened at the Museum of the American Indian in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with interpretation by filmmaker Zacharius Kunuk.

An exhibit of 70 works from Nunavut has opened at the Institute of American Indian Arts Museum in Santa Fe, New Mexico, with interpretation by filmmaker Zacharius Kunuk.

Kunuk, maker of The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, wrote part of the catalogue for the show, Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic, which opened Saturday.

Kunuk's essay introducing the works, gathered from contemporary artists across Nunavut, tells the story of his first day of school, when he learned he would not be allowed to speak Inuktitut.

"When I began to see myself as an aboriginal person and a filmmaker, I learned there are different ways to tell the same story," Kunuk writes in the catalogue.

"People in Igloolik learned through storytelling who we were and where we came from for 4,000 years without a written language."

Kunuk's 13-part miniseries Nunavut (Our Land) continuously screens as part of the exhibit.

Arviat Imngiqtingit, a group of Inuit throat singers from Arviat, sang atthe opening of Our Land: Contemporary Art From the Arctic.

Music teacher Jeff Van den Scott, who accompanied the group to Sante Fe, says they metwith an "appreciative audience"at the Santa Fe museum, which is unique in focusing on contemporary art by indigenous people from throughout North America.

IAIA museum director John Grimes and Karen L. Kramer, assistant curator of native American art and culture at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass., co-operated to create the exhibit.

The exhibit pulls together Inuit carving, drawings, prints and lithographs from the 1960s to the present.

Rich artistic heritage

Nunavut has a rich artistic heritage, but few resources to display works in public, Grimes said.

The works on display at the IAIA museum are from the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage collection, which was divided between Nunavut and the Northwest Territories in 2002.

Artists featured include Andrew Qappik, whose 1993 print Favorite Place to Be depicts fishing through the eyes of a fisherman, and Pitseolak Niviaqsi, whose 1992 print Kuugapik (The River) shows a muddy summer landscape from a bird's vantage point.

Works by stone sculptors Thomas Ugjuk, Johnassie Tukallak and Judas Ullulaq are included in the show.

Museum wall text has quotes from Inuit elders, rather than anthropological explanations of the works.The quotes appear in English and aboriginal syllabic writing.

"We are trying to understand the art through the eyes of the makers," Grimes said.

One section of wall text, by Inuit elder Martha Angugatiaq Ungalaak, talks about the way work is explained to Inuit children.

"We were told that laziness serves no purpose, so we had to carry out the task without reluctance. We were also to keep in close communication with our relatives by visiting them regularly and being amongst them," she is quoted as saying.

The show will remain in Sante Fe until February 2007.