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Isuma to represent Canada at the 58th International Art Exhibition- La Biennale di Venezia in 2019
Left to right, Norman Cohn, Pauloosie Qulitalik, Lizzie Qulitalik, Mary Qulitalik, Rachel Uyarashuk, Jonah Uyarashuk, Zacharias Kunuk, on the set of Nunaqpa (Going Inland), 1990.


OTTAWA.- The National Gallery of Canada announced today that the artist collective Isuma, led by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, will represent Canada at the 58th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, 2019.

Isuma, meaning “to think, or a state of thoughtfulness” in Inuktitut, is Canada’s first Inuit video-based production company. It was co-founded in 1990 by Kunuk, Cohn, Paul Apak Angilirq (1954-1998), and Pauloosie Qulitalik (1939-2012) to preserve Inuit culture and language and to present Inuit stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences around the world.

“Since the mid-1990s the Isuma collective has been challenging stereotypes about ways of life in the North and breaking boundaries in video art, including the first video-based work to win a major film award at the prestigious Cannes film festival,” said National Gallery of Canada Director and CEO, Marc Mayer. “Isuma’s participation in Venice also marks the first presentation of art by Inuit in the Canada Pavilion. I am convinced that the international art world will be inspired by the insights that Kunuk and Cohn's collaborative work will elicit at the next Venice Biennale.”

Isuma’s ground-breaking features, documentaries and television series have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival (2001, Caméra d’or) and Documenta 11 and 14 (2002, 2017), as well as at the Edinburgh International Film Festival (2001), the Flanders International Film Festival Ghent (2001), the Toronto International Film Festival (2006) and the Sundance Film Festival (2009), among others. Their work is represented in major art institutions including the National Gallery of Canada.

Works such as Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, Nunavut (Our Land), Maliglutit (Searchers), Hunting With My Ancestors, The Journals of Knud Rasmussen, and the first Haïda-language feature, Edge of the Knife, currently in-progress, not only feature Indigenous languages – principally Inuktitut – and producers, directors, actors and writers, they also uniquely reconstruct traditions and stories. The Igloolik Isuma archive, now in the National Gallery of Canada Library and Archives, also forms a valuable part of the work the collective has undertaken over several decades and includes thousands of hours of raw footage and interviews with Inuit elders, providing a detailed local history and rare access to Inuit culture.

“Inuit went from Stone Age to Digital Age in my lifetime,” said Zacharias Kunuk. “I was on Baffin Island, living on the land, and I saw the last of that era. Since we have an oral history, nothing is written down – everything is taught by what you see. Your father's fixing up the harpoon; you watch how he does it and you learn from it. For the medium I work in now, it was the same. Oral history and new technology match. I am trying to do this with my videos – tell the story behind how we lived. We try to make everything authentic so a hundred years from now when people see our films they’ll know how to do it.”

“Isuma’s style of community-based filmmaking merged early activist video with ancient values of collective survival,” noted Norman Cohn. “Isuma was founded as a collective: Zach and I with our late partners, Apak and Qulitalik. In our first ten years, whole families worked on our films: Zach’s family, Qulitalik’s family, Tatigat’s family, Samuelie Ammaq’s family and Akkitirq’s family, elders, and children. Over three decades, hundreds of people came together to fill our films with artfulness through handmade clothing and tools, igloos and songs, and actors re-living their ancestors’ memories in experimental storytelling through video. Collective survival depends on the art of working together for a common purpose, of putting the group before the individual. We hope to represent that view of video art in Venice in 2019.”

Isuma was selected by a national committee of experts in contemporary Canadian art comprised of: Naomi Potter, Director and Curator, Esker Foundation; Matthew Hyland, Director, Oakville Galleries; Candice Hopkins, independent curator and writer; Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Canada; and Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. The project curator, who will be selected by the artists, will be announced in 2018.





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