I recently went to The Rooms in St. John’s to see a new exhibit I was looking forward to, called Helping Hands: 30 Years at Kinngait Studios.
Master printmaker William Ritchie kept a copy of every print he worked on at the Nunavut studio. His donation of nearly 400 prints — by dozens of Inuit artists — is one of the largest and most significant ever made to The Rooms, the cultural complex that houses the provincial gallery, museum and archives of Terre- Newfoundland and Labrador.
I am both an international student and an art lover, so seeing this exhibit was a chance to educate myself – to learn about the different stories these prints illustrate and the unique culture they present.
It was an instructive, inspiring and culturally rich experience, which pushed me to do my own research, particularly on the avatarwhich is a sealskin float.
The uniqueness of the display struck me. It inspired me to have meaningful conversations about the seal hunt, to read about whales in the community of Kinngait, to unlearn and relearn the Inuit culture of the area, and to share what I gathered with my family. and my close friends.
If you haven’t seen the exhibit yet, I hope you will.
It expresses contemporary Inuit identity and daily reality, which is a work of educational creation as well as an opportunity to support and share the beautiful messages of artists.
Two pieces that really spoke to me were Bird’s eye view and Help.
They paint a vivid picture of the Kinngait community and the consolidated teamwork within Kinngait Studios. Bird’s eye view depicts an aerial view of a pod of whales. It is an abstract composition, showing the perspective of something flying above the whales. The main element of the artwork – the pod of whales – tells viewers that the Kinngait community is a whaling community, where you can spot beluga whales entering the harbor in the fall.
From this work, I learned that the landscape of Kinngait is dotted with beluga whales from which the artist drew inspiration. I think it also highlights how symbolic, representative and culturally important beluga whales are for the artist to capture the landscape.
Likewise, the Help shows many hands reaching forward in the same direction, depicting the many hands that make up Kinngait Studios. Although this is an experimental composition, for me it portrays the true solidarity between artists and the recognition and celebration of everyone’s contributions to Kinngait Studios.
Ultimately, Avataq — an installation of 18 handmade helium balloons resembling an avataq — was another highlight.
It not only celebrates the region’s Inuit culture, but also highlights meaningful conversations about the seal hunt, the international ban on sealskin products, and the destructive effects of the ban on livelihoods. in the north.
The installation tells the story of the seal hunt, and the swinging balloons bring the activity to life: the fin-shaped limbs, the texture of the silk-screened sealskin, the inflated balloon symbolizing the hunter’s breath inside the full skin of the animal, the ropes symbolizing the harpoons, which the hunter uses to catch his prey and follow it in the water once harpooned.
The details, symbolism and metaphorical, realistic yet appealing depiction of the seal hunt through simple materials convey the knowledge of traditional and cultural sealing which is an integral part of the Inuit way of life and expresses how the education is crucial to understand the impact of the ban by learning how seals are a source of food, a source of clothing such as boots and mittens as well as an important income for the Inuit community.
One wall is dominated by an eloquent quote: “I’ve always wished I was paid more for the things I do to sell that were valuable in our traditional culture. I wish I could make money selling things that I can distinguish from caribou and sealskins instead of selling the drawings I make on these things,” wrote artist Mayoreak Ashoona.
This exhibition provided me with the platform for a bigger picture and new educational information and resources that I probably would not have come across otherwise.
Unlearning and relearning or simply educating ourselves on the richness of indigenous culture and traditions is necessary.
It raises awareness, motivates to action, recognizes and encourages conversations about heritage, culture, traditions, history, current and past barriers, and keeps the survival and meaningful transmission of this knowledge alive and noisy instead of be suppressed and attacked.
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