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University of Richmond Museums Celebrates Inuit Art and Culture
Karoo Ashevak (Inuit, Taloyoak, Nunavit, 1940-1974), Flying Shaman, circa 1972, whale bone, ivory, and stone, 11 3/4 x 21 1/4 x 6 3/4 inches, Albrecht Collection, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, © Heard Museum, photograph by Craig Smith.

RICHMOND, VA.- Opening September 5, 2008, the University of Richmond Museums presents the exhibitions Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum and Transformations: Inuit Sculptures from the Collection. These exhibitions explore major themes and techniques in Inuit art-making, as well as the role of art in contemporary Inuit culture.

On view at the Harnett Museum of Art from September 5 to November 16, 2008, Arctic Spirit presents the rich artistic heritage of the Inuit of Arctic Canada, a people whose nomadic way of life was interrupted by the Western fur and whaling trade during the early 20th century. In the 1950s, Inuit hunters turned to sculpting, drawing, and printmaking to earn an income after the collapse of the whaling and trapping industries, with highly successful results. In some Inuit villages today, more than 20 percent of the adult population is employed in the art industry. Arctic Spirit gives an account of these people and their artwork, from the prehistoric carvings of their ancestors to experimental sculptures and prints created by some of Canada’s most famous artists.

The works featured in the exhibition also illustrate popular themes in Inuit art, which include nature and animals, everyday life, shamanism, and the supernatural. Inuit artists often tap into their cultural belief that humans are merely one part of a large and complex natural world. For example, animals such as the polar bear (nanuq) are thought to be near-human rivals of the Inuit. By weaving these traditional ideas into their work, Inuit artists have introduced their heritage and culture to the “southern” public, and have also preserved it for themselves during a period of rapid Westernization.

Organized by the Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona, the exhibition is a program of ExhibitsUSA, a national division of Mid-America Arts Alliance and The National Endowment of the Arts. The exhibition was curated by Ingo Hessel, Albrecht Adjunct Curator of Inuit Art, the Heard Museum. An illustrated exhibition catalogue with an essay written by Hessel and published by the Heard Museum, is available for purchase.

Arctic Spirit, presented as part of the 40th anniversary of the Harnett Museum of Art, is dedicated to the memory of Joel W. Harnett, RC’45 (1926-2006). The art museum was named the Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art in 2005 in recognition of the generosity of the Harnetts throughout the years and for their nurturing and leadership of the museums at the University of Richmond.

On view at the Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature from September 5, 2008 to June 14, 2009, Transformations: Inuit Sculptures from the Collection showcases contemporary Inuit sculptures with a focus on the artists who made these works and their culture, past and present. In just one hundred years, the lifestyle of the typical Inuit person has transformed from nomadic hunting to a sedentary, more Western lifestyle. Today, many Inuit continue to adapt to a cash economy and struggle to maintain their cultural identity. Making sculpture provides an outlet for both of these needs, providing income and preserving Inuit heritage.

As Inuit culture continues to change, their sculpture changes as well; older sculptors recorded memories of their nomadic childhood. But younger generations of carvers, who have been educated in Western schools and were not exposed to many aspects of Inuit culture, discover their heritage by creating sculpture. Some younger artists featured in Transformations, such as Manasie Akpaliapik, Abraham Apakark Anghik, and David Ruben Piqtoukun, have moved to cities such as Toronto and sculpt abstract or nontraditional sculptures very different from those of their parents. The stone, bone, antler, and horn sculptures were selected primarily from a recent gift to the University Museums by Ms. Virginia A. Arnold. Although most of the artists depict age-old customs and subjects, none of the pieces in the exhibition are more than twenty-five years old.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, Transformations was co-curated by Richard Waller, Executive Director, University Museums, and Schuyler Swartout, ’11, philosophy major, University of Richmond, and 2008 Arts and Sciences summer research fellow in the University Museums.

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