Qaumajuq dazzles and inspires

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 03/11/2021 (460 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Qaumajuq means “It is bright. It is lit,” in Inuktitut. Pronounced “kah-mah’-yerk”, it is the name of the new Inuit Art Centre in downtown Winnipeg.

As you proceed north of the Legislative Building down Memorial Boulevard your attention is drawn to the white undulating extension to our Winnipeg Art Gallery’s south end — conjuring up expansive snow sculptures of the Arctic. How fitting that Qaumajuq opened the year we observed on a statutory National Day of Truth and Reconciliation on Sept. 30, dedicated to Canada’s Indigenous peoples.

We have watched this centre being born step by step. Where once there was a low protective wall next to the sidewalk, our eyes can now gaze at the plaza in front of the new building with its beds of greenery and the warning not to trample on their space — they have just been planted. A fine metaphor for the state of our new appreciation of and respect for Indigenous culture.

Supplied photo by Lindsay Reid Qaumajuq, the new Inuit Art Centre at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, is a facility of which all Winnipeggers should be proud.

One striking feature of this gallery is that the walls separating the outside from the treasures inside are made of glass. It indicates a kind of trust — that citizens can now look beyond the surface to see inside the culture and customs of the Inuit and admire them for what they are when left to flourish.

You step through the door and a whole other world meets your gaze. Literally hundreds — no, thousands — of soapstone carvings greet the eyes (4,500, according to the information sheet). Glassed-in vaults in layers snake into the building and reach up, up, into another level and even a third. The variety of colours and shapes and themes in the sculptures, all selectively placed into cubicles formed within the glass structure, simply boggles one’s imagination. It has to be viewed in person to be fully appreciated.

 We visited the second-storey vaults as well, if only to see where my dedication to a late family member will be placed. Thankfully, it will be inside the vault housing Karoo Ashevak’s sole soapstone carving — for I had confessed admiration for his unique stark-white whalebone carvings I’d seen in a 1977 display at WAG. Organic media like whalebone do not tolerate exposure to light or atmosphere and aren’t shown here, but  the Richardson Foundation’s offer to double my donation was too tempting to resist.

In being a one-of-a-kind facility in the world, Qaumajuq is putting Winnipeg on the map thanks to the unique artistic contributions from Canada’s north. This $65 million project was partly funded — handsomely — by the three levels of government. As well, businesses and individuals from across the nation are helping to make the dream a reality. How can we not be proud to be living in this city, this province, this country? Especially in Winnipeg!

“It is bright. It is lit.”

Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital. Email her at acy@mymts.net

Anne Yanchyshyn

Anne Yanchyshyn
St. Vital community correspondent

Anne Yanchyshyn is a community correspondent for St. Vital.

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