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Tunirrusiangit reflects the legacy of Inuit artists Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak
Kenojuak Ashevak, The Woman Who Lives in the Sun, 1960. Stonecut on paper, Overall: 49.7 x 66.2 cm. Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick, Toronto, 2002. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

TORONTO.- This summer, the Art Gallery of Ontario welcomes Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak, a unique celebration of two iconic Inuit artists as seen through the eyes of four contemporary Inuit curators. On view in Toronto the exhibition showcases over 100 works on paper by “the grandmother of Inuit art” Kenojuak Ashevak (1927–2013), and her nephew Tim Pitsiulak (1967–2016), one of the most sought-after contemporary Inuit artists in his lifetime.

Brought vividly to life by a team of Inuit artists and curators – including sculptor Koomuatuk Curley (based in Ottawa), writer and storyteller Taqralik Partridge (based in Kautokeino, Norway), curator Jocelyn Piirainen (based in Ottawa) and performer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (based in Iqaluit) – this exhibition marks a new type of curatorial collaboration for the AGO. The curatorial team of Inuit artists led this exhibition at every stage, developing new artworks as well as shaping everything from public programming to exhibition texts.

Kinngait’s most internationally acclaimed artist, Kenojuak Ashevak is renowned for her fluid graphic storytelling and keen design sensibility. Together with drawings by Tim Pitsiulak, whose signature approach reflected a deep appreciation that “art is part of everything,” the exhibition presents a dynamic vision of contemporary Inuit life – a vision reflected throughout the show in decisions by the curatorial team and expressed through their contributions and first person responses.

“Through the Tunirrusiangit exhibition we’ve aimed to create a bridge between the past and the future, and to give the public a unique view of the work of two incredible artists,” says Tunirrusiangit co-curator Jocelyn Piirainen. “In Inuktitut, Tunirrusiangit means ‘their gifts’ or ‘the gift they gave.’ It is a fitting exhibition title, since it recognizes the artists' lasting legacies, while at the same time conveys how inspirational and impactful their work has been on each of us, as Inuit curators.”

As a liaison between the AGO and the curatorial team, Piirainen was instrumental in ensuring the exhibition reflects the curatorial team’s perspective at every stage. An Inuk living in the south, she also contributed an essay, “Gracious Acceptance of Their Gifts,” to the exhibition catalogue, due out in June 2018.

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will pass through Silaup Putunga (2018), a constantly changing projection created by curator and performer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. This work, whose title means “portal’ in Inuktitut, was created in collaboration with cinematographer Jamie Griffiths and is the result of two video projections meeting on a single screen, allowing visitors to experience Williamson Bathory’s uaajeerneq (Greenlandic mask dance) performed against an ever-changing Arctic landscape.

“I’m showing the idea of sinking from one surface of reality to another by travelling through layers of my face, my mask and the landscape/icescape I live upon. First, you see my face like it is the size of a mountain, then you plunge closer and closer to my eye and pierce right through my iris. On the other side of my eyeball, you see nuna and siku – the land and sea ice. Is this vista my inner landscape?” Williamson Bathory says.

In a gallery space featuring Kenojuak Ashevak’s images of summer hunting camps, visitors will be invited to sit in a qarmaq (a traditional sod house) to hear original stories written and shared by co-curator, writer and storyteller Taqralik Partridge. Newsprint is commonly used to cover qarmait in the summer, and this particular structure is covered in archival snippets from the New York Times that call attention to the language used in the past to describe Inuit.

“This structure gives the visitor something of the idea of the interior of a qarmaq. It is made in a way that lets people feel they are in a defined space; where they can look at the pieces of overlapping newsprint, and the footage of the community of Kinngait, and listen to a story or a poem. Imagine that people would have spent many hours looking at the newsprint on their walls, and what thoughts they might have had about what they saw there. This wallpaper pulls up the things that the walls would have said about Inuit, and we hope that visitors will come away with more questions about how Inuit have been perceived in history,” Partridge says.

Voices of the families of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak can be heard throughout the exhibition, thanks to interviews filmed by co-curator Koomuatuk Curley, an artist, sculptor, Kinngait native and Tim Pitsiulak’s nephew. Spoken in Inuktitut with English subtitles, the interviews feature Silaqi Ashevak, Kenojuak Ashevak’s daughter, discussing her mother’s artwork, love of fishing and travels to the South; stories from Mary Pitsiulak, Tim Pitsiulak’s widow, about the artist’s family; and Peesee Stephens and Shaa Pitsiulak, Tim Pitsiulak’s sisters, speaking about their childhood in Nunavut and their family’s history with the land and hunting.

“We are working for these two artists and they are challenging us,” says Curley.

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Tunirrusiangit reflects the legacy of Inuit artists Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak

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