WAG Exhibition Highlights the Fantastic and Surreal in Inuit Art

An exhibition opening at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on May 31 features work by several Baker Lake and Cape Dorset artists who let their imaginations loose to create surreal, fantastic art. Inuit Fantastic Art continues until October 12.

In 1967 American anthropologist Dr. Nelson Graburn sponsored a competition in Puvirnituq in response to carvers who complained that buyers only wanted them to create realistic subjects. The competition encouraged carvers to create works of originality and imagination, independent of the usual commercial production, and cash prizes were offered. Puvunirtuq carvers have continued to create these imaginative works ever since.

In 1972, George Swinton, writer, collector, and teacher at the University of Manitoba School of Art, organized an exhibition called Eskimo Fantastic Art at the University’s Gallery 1.1.1. The title became associated thereafter with surreal, bizarre artworks. 

“These carvings are part of old oral and visual traditions, common not only to the Canadian Arctic but also to the entire Arctic region from Siberia to Greenland,” says Darlene Coward Wight, Curator of Inuit Art.

The exhibition also includes tupilaqs from East Greenland. “Tupilaqs were harmful spirits created by a shaman out of bones and skin, brought to life through magical changes and sent to kill one’s enemy,” says Wight. “In the early 1900s, Danish inhabitants of Greenland wanted to know what these mysterious creatures looked like and carvers began to create them from their imaginations.”

Currently, admission to the WAG is free to youth 18 and under until June 30.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a cultural advocate – a lens and forum – helping people see and experience more through art. Playing a vital role in the community, engaging and enriching people of all ages and backgrounds through art and culture, the Winnipeg Art Gallery thrives as a creative, innovative, and accessible place for learning, discovery, and inspiration.

For more information, please contact:
Tammy Sawatzky
Public Relations Coordinator
204.789.1295
tsawatzky@wag.ca

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