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Sanaugavut: Inuit Art from the Canadian Arctic
Naomi Ityi (Baker Lake, Kivalliq region, Nunavut), Untitled 1979. Gift of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1989.

OTTAWA.- Today, the National Gallery of Canada presents – as a world exclusive and for the first time in Asia – Sanaugavut: Inuit Art from the Canadian Arctic, an exhibition of masterpieces from the NGC’s Inuit art collection. Organized by the NGC with the National Museum and the National Museum Institute in New Delhi, India, Sanaugavut is a result of the first collaboration between the two institutions, providing an opportunity to build a cultural bridge between two nations with very different cultures. The exhibition is on view at the National Museum in New Delhi until January 2, 2011.

“Sanaugavut is an excellent introduction to Inuit art, and it is with great pleasure that we are offering the Indian public the chance to see an exhibition that represents a remarkable chapter in Canadian art history,” said NGC Director, Marc Mayer. “Inuit artists are recognized throughout the world for their remarkable creativity. We are all the more pleased to highlight Inuit culture and achievements as this exhibition coincides with the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami’s campaign, 2010 Year of the Inuit. We are grateful for the generous support and leadership of our many sponsors, without whom this exhibition could not have taken place.”

The organization of the exhibition was made possible through the support of Bombardier, the exhibition’s presenting sponsor; The Ministry of Culture of the Government of India; The Chadha Family Foundation; as well as Air Canada and Jet Airways for the transportation of the works of art.

The presentation of Sanaugavut coincides with initiatives undertaken by the Canadian and Indian governments to strengthen established cultural ties between Canada and India. A Memorandum of Understanding on cultural cooperation between the two countries, signed by Prime Minister Harper and Prime Minister Singh following the G-8 Summit in June, mentions this exhibition.

Sanaugavut – which means “our works of art” in Inuktitut – features works of art from the past 60 years of art-making in the Canadian Arctic and brings together 46 sculptures, seven prints, three drawings, a tapestry, and two videos. The exhibition is structured geographically and chronologically – from the early 1940s to the present. Works are included from the four regions of Inuit Nunangat: Nunatsiavut, Nunavik, Nunavut, and the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. The main themes of Inuit art are richly illustrated – traditional cultural knowledge and social values, spiritual and cosmological beliefs, oral traditions – stories transmitting myths, historical events, personal experiences – and artistic creativity and innovation.

A history of cultural expressions
For more than 4,000 years, circumpolar peoples have been living in Inuit Nunangat, the Inuit homeland, located in the Canadian Far North. Throughout the millennia, the Inuit and their ancestors have created their own distinct cultural expressions, inspired by their environment, their daily life, and the multiple transformations their society has undergone. But it was in the mid-twentieth century that Inuit art as we know it today emerged: these prints, drawings, works on fabric, and stone sculptures are among the great treasures of Canada.

A variety of media and themes
The early 1940s marked an important turning point in Inuit artistic expression. Over the next decade, drawings and prints, works on fabric, and stone sculptures emerged, bringing the artists into the era of the modern art movement. More recently, video and film have re-established ties to the oral traditions, songs, and performances, giving the oldest modes of expression a contemporary relevance.

In a variety of media and stylistic approaches, the artists address themes that are concerned with their heritage, since Inuit art first and foremost reflects their identity. While the majority of Inuit artists in the past sixty years have focused on a way of life that existed prior to the settlement era, others explore aspects of modern life in the North. Many artists create art to record complex metaphysical and spiritual beliefs, as well as myths and legends.

In addition, a number of important works are born of other sources of inspiration. Several artists have given free reign to their imagination and fantasies. Self-taught, Inuit artists have inventively created their own iconographies and pictorial devices to give form to their aesthetic and artistic visions.

The curator
Christine Lalonde, Associate Curator of Indigenous Art at the NGC, is the curator of Sanaugavut: Inuit Art from the Canadian Arctic. She joined the NGC in 1988, and since 1994 she has been actively writing about and working with Inuit artists from across the Canadian Arctic. She is responsible for the NGC’s Inuit art collection and has organized more than a dozen solo exhibitions for artists such as Pitseolak Ashoona (1996) and Josie Papialuk (2003), as well as group exhibitions such as Inuit Sculpture Now (2005) and Uuturautiit: Cape Dorset Celebrates 50 Years of Printmaking (2009).

National Gallery of Canada | Sanaugavut | Marc Mayer |

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