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This article was published 8/2/2018 (611 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It may not have any walls yet, but the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s history-making Inuit Art Centre has its first curators.
On Thursday, the gallery announced the all-Inuit, four-woman team who will curate the inaugural exhibitions at the Inuit Art Centre, which is set to open in 2020. The $65-million centre will boast 40,000 square feet of exhibition, learning, research and studio space. A three-storey glass vault, showcasing 7,500 Inuit carvings, will serve as the heart of the centre.
Dr. Heather Igloliorte, who was in Winnipeg for Thursday’s announcement, will lead the team. Originally hailing from Nunatsiavut, Igloliorte is an assistant professor in the department of art history at Concordia University in Montreal, as well as the co-chair of the gallery’s Indigenous Advisory Circle.
Her curatorial team will be rounded out by Asinnajaq, an Inukjuak, Nunavik-born, Montreal-based filmmaker, curator and writer; Jade Nasogaluak Carpenter, a Yellowknife-born, Calgary-based artist and curator; and Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, the Chesterfield Inlet-raised, Rankin Inlet-based curator of Inuit art for Nunavut’s Department of Culture and Heritage.
"The inaugural exhibitions of the Inuit Art Centre will be forward-looking, inclusive, collaborative and dynamic," Igloliorte said. "We hope to create a space for the appreciation and celebration of the north in the south, while maybe even surprising audiences with the depth and breadth of contemporary Inuit art today, from digital media and installation art to mixed-media sculpture, music and photography."
The team’s vision, Igloliorte said, is to curate exhibits that span not only artistic mediums and generations — from emerging artists to elders — but geographical regions as well. To that end, the curatorial team represents all four regions of Inuit Nunangat: the Inuvialuit region of the western Arctic; the territory of Nunavut; Nunavik, Quebec; and Nunatsiavut, Labrador.
"Having four Inuit curators representing all of Canada’s Inuit regions in a major exhibition is unprecedented in the country’s history," the gallery’s director and CEO Stephen Borys said. "Setting the tone for the WAG’s Inuit Art Centre, this curatorial force will bring into focus Indigenous voices, to share their stories nationally and around the globe. Offered here, in Winnipeg, is a new forum for international cultural dialogue."
It’s a well-known piece of local trivia that the gallery is already home to the world’s largest collection of Inuit art, numbering some 13,000 pieces. Currently, the gallery only has space to display a fraction of that. But the Inuit Art Centre will be more than a dedicated space to show that vast collection — it will also provide an opportunity, as Borys said, for the gallery to reimagine its role in the community.
Igloliorte, meanwhile, believes the Inuit Art Centre could be a centralized hub for Inuit art and artists.
"We’re going to be able to connect to each other in a way that’s been unprecedented," she said. "We don’t have many places where we can get together regularly and really share what we’re doing in our art."
She also hopes the centre inspires more Inuit to pursue careers in cultural institutions — there are very few Inuit curators in Canada, and the dearth of universities up north makes studying in fields such as art history a challenge.
Igloliorte also believes the Inuit Art Centre is an important bridge between the north and the south, between Inuit and the non-Indigenous, First Nations and Métis people of Manitoba.
"We’re in Winnipeg, and we have the world’s largest collection of Inuit art — but this is not the place where the world’s most Inuit live," she said. "We’re on Treaty One Territory, we’re on the Métis homeland. I think there’s a real opportunity here, for us to bring together Manitoba’s First Nations and Métis people and Canada’s First Nations Métis people in a real, meaningful conversation with the Inuit, who are our northern neighbours."
Jen Zoratti is a Winnipeg Free Press columnist and co-host of the paper's local culture podcast, Bury the Lede.