It is bright, it is lit, and as of today, Qaumajuq is open.
Blessings and prayers from elders representing the Inuit and Treaty 1 First Nations in Manitoba put the ultimate finishing touches on the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new $65-million home for Inuit art Friday evening.
Elder Martha Peet lit a quilliq, a traditional Inuit lamp to begin the ceremony that was filmed at Qaumajuq and livestreamed on the internet. Qaumajuq is pronounced "kow-ma-yourk" or "how-ma-yourk and means "it is bright, it is lit," in Inuktitut.
Separate smudging ceremonies performed by Indigenous elders from First Nations in Manitoba welcomed Qaumajuq to Treaty 1 territory, on which the gallery sits, and blessed its galleries and artworks.
"On behalf of the Treaty 1 people, we are so honoured to have the Inuit art gallery to be hosted in our traditional territory," said Dennis Meeches, chief of Long Plain First Nation.
The 35-minute presentation included a star-blanket ceremony with members of the WAG’s Indigenous advisory circle, whose work has helped transform the gallery’s colonial past into an artistic future that embraces Indigenous art and culture from the north and south.
"Qaumajuq exists because of the wisdom and counsel offered so generously by the elders, members of the Indigenous advisory circle and the artists, curators and collectors who have created, cared for and shared these artworks over the decades," said Stephen Borys, WAG’s director and chief executive officer.
The livestreamed opening ceremony replaced an in-person gathering that was unable to proceed, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. It acknowledged the importance of Indigenous representation by splitting the presentation into two parts. The first focused on the Indigenous aspect of Qaumajuq; the second was a long list official statements, warm wishes and greetings from politicians, businesses, artists and other dignitaries.
"Qaumajuq, meaning it is bright, it is lit, in Inukitut, will not only showcase the world’s largest collection of contemporary Inuit art, but it will also highlight the Inuit language and culture and it will help promote Inuit artists and their stories in the true spirit of reconciliation," said Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the recorded opening ceremony. "Together, we can build a better Canada that is fairer and more equal for everyone."
"Inuit art's an iconic symbol of our nation, and our new art centre is going to put many unique and special pieces on public display, highlighting the remarkable talent and vision of Inuit artists," says Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister.
Manitoba Lt.-Gov. Janice Filmon honoured visionary leaders who helped make Qaumajuq possible.
"This new art centre is an open window that lets light into the soul of our city," said Filmon.
The ceremony is part of a three-day opening for Qaumajuq. The first began yesterday with another livestreamed video, where Borys acted as a tour guide inside of the 40,000-square-foot gallery and introduced some of the curators who have been key to the project and its inaugural exhibition.
Quamajuq opens today to the general public but attendance for today and Sunday is already sold out. Provincial pandemic regulations restrict capacity of museums and galleries to 25 per cent capacity and the WAG launched an appointment-based timed-ticketing system to prevent crowding.
Alan Small has been a journalist at the Free Press for more than 22 years in a variety of roles, the latest being a reporter in the Arts and Life section.