If you can have one Inuk, why not have four?
Heather Igloliorte, lead curator for INUA, recalls when she was invited by the Winnipeg Art Gallery to be a curator for the Inuit Art Centre’s inaugural exhibition, “I countered and said: “If you can have one Inuk curator, why not have four?””
Heather jumped at the amazing opportunity to have the four different regions of the North represented. She had met the other three curators before, and looked forward to working with them: “I wanted to bring in collaboration right away; this is how Inuit work, together.”
The four-curator model proposal was greeted enthusiastically, and the team is now busy planning INUA. An article on INUA curator Krista Ulujuk Zawadski, was featured in the last ENews. On the process of working together, Heather laughs: “It’s been both experimental and successful. It’s been a fun process, but also a learning process, for us all and for the WAG too, I think.”
Deep responsibility to community
“I’m excited to see the visual vault. It’s going to make the amazing collections of Inuit art more accessible for everyone.” Heather can’t wait to experience the stunning layout of the soon to be realized Inuit Art Centre, and envisions the centre as a welcoming space for everyone: “People will walk into the beautiful, bright space filled with light, and will be given a rich sense of Inuit history, and an appreciation for our ingenuity, talent, knowledge and tenacity.”
Driven by a deep responsibility to her community and to the artists, Heather knows what she wants to achieve with INUA: “I want Inuit to walk into the gallery and have it feel like they are welcome here, that it is a space for them. I want them to see themselves here.”
Heather speaks from the heart: “The Inuit Art Centre is set up so truth-telling can happen here. It’s a place where we can grapple with difficult truths, like the ongoing impacts of colonization and language repression. We want to make space for Inuit to speak the truth and be heard. You’ll see these stories in the art. Inuit artists do not shy away from representing these experiences.”
Circumpolar family share a language and culture
More than 50 artists from every generation and medium have been selected for the inaugural exhibition with 10 new works commissioned. The artists are happy to be in each other’s company.
The opening exhibit will also feature works on loan from Siberia, Greenland, and Alaska. Heather explains: “They’re our Circumpolar family. They’re our cousins. Although there are many unique features to our people and communities, we ultimately share a language and a culture. Even the title of our exhibition, INUA, meaning spirit, can be found from Alaska to Greenland.”
Heather is passionate about the global focus: “Inuit art is becoming more and more circumpolar. We’re dissolving boundaries, and creating new and closer relationships. Artists are growing in solidarity.”
Attract people from all around the world
Heather is looking forward to the INUA artists having their brilliant work celebrated: “I want people to first and foremost love the art. I want people to take a long time and be absorbed in the pieces and their stories.”
She and the other curators have big plans to attract artists and people from all around the world to the Inuit Art Centre. “I hope many of the artists in the show will be able to come to the opening, or to visit the exhibition while it is installed. We’re planning conferences and other events to get artists and Inuit together at the Inuit Art Centre.”
Inuit contribution to Canada’s national identity
With this global focus in mind, Heather is optimistic for the future: “More and more ground-breaking role models like Inuk Jocelyn Piirainen, the Assistant Curator of Inuit Art at the WAG, are inspiring others. I see a bright future for Inuit to take up more leadership positions in Canada, and not just in art.”
Heather knows that while the world has been admiring Inuit art for years, she champions a deeper understanding between North and South. “How lucky is Winnipeg?” Heather enthuses. “Métis, First Nations and Inuit arts are celebrated here at the WAG, but this year the city will see this new, unprecedented world-class institution open. It will attract visitors from across Canada and internationally to come learn about and appreciate circumpolar Indigenous arts. It’s a thrilling time to be working with the WAG.”
Heather Igloliorte, PhD will take on the role of Scholar in Residence at the University of Winnipeg this summer, teaching a course in Arctic Art, and speaking at public lectures.
At Concordia University, Heather is an Associate Professor, Art History; Tier 1 Concordia University Research Chair in Circumpolar Indigenous Arts, Art History; Co-Director, Indigenous Futures Cluster, Milieux Institute for Arts, Culture and Technology, Hexagram-Concordia; and, Special Advisor to the Provost, Advancing Indigenous Knowledges.