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Inuit exhibit bridges cultures

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From soapstone to whale bone, graphic prints to fabric, a new exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is a "fascinating" showcase of the evolution of Inuit art.

Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art is a collection of 115 works from WAG’s internationally-renowned collection, encompassing seven decades from 1949 to the present day.

"It’s fascinating, the range of work," said Christian Cassidy, executive director of the Manitoba Urban Inuit Association, which built two igloos on the roof of the art gallery as part of the exhibit.

Curated by Darlene Coward Wight, the WAG’s Curator of Inuit Art, the exhibit is only a sliver of the 13,000 works of Inuit art in the gallery’s collection.

The exhibit is divided by decade, covering the art’s dramatic rise in popularity as Inuit artists shifted mediums: ivory miniatures from the 1940s, stone carvings and printmaking in the 1950s, the use of whale bone in the 80s, and, more recently, stonecut prints on paper.

"People sometime think of the really traditional soapstone carving of a hunter as Inuit art," Cassidy said, noting a symposium coinciding with the exhibit’s launch included internationally-award winning filmmaker Zacharias Kunuk, and that youth in Iqaluit are bending the rules of hip hop by blending throat singing into the mix.

"This exhibit shows a wide range of young Inuit and older Inuit working in new types of art."
Winnipeg is a popular destination for Inuit, both in terms of those seeking medical treatment, and youth seeking schooling and employment training. Headquartered on Ellice Avenue in the West End, the MUIA has about 137 members.

Participating in the exhibit by having MUIA board members like Fred Ford build a pair of igloos is a "source of pride" for local Inuit, and a great way to bridge two cultures, Cassidy said.

"One, we want to bring Inuit culture to Inuits living in Winnipeg. Part of our role is to reach out . . . and make a connection and get them involved in their community," he said.

"The second thing, we want to showcase Inuit culture in the south to people who don’t know much about it. It’s worked out really great and is something we want to continue to do."

Coward Wight, who wrote a 256-book to accompany the exhibit, said Winnipeg has always been a gateway to the North, which has helped build interest in Inuit art.

The WAG’s Inuit collection has been instrumental in attracting donations, she added.

The WAG is still working on plans for a new, four-storey Inuit Art and Learning Centre, with plans to break ground on construction in 2014, Wight said. The centre would include two floors of exhibition and storage space — "meaning a whole lot more art on view," Wight said — and two floors including studio, education and research space.

The impact of the new centre will be far-reaching, Wight said.

"Since there will be a real showcase for the art, it’s bound to encourage artists to continue to create," she said.

Creation & Transformation: Defining Moments in Inuit Art runs until April 14, 2013.
The gallery is open Tuesday to Sunday from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Friday from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. It is closed Mondays.

For more, visit www.manitobainuit.ca and http://wag.ca.

matt.preprost@canstarnews.com

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