2023-2024 Colloquium Series
"From Tarktuk - the darkness (of the North) to Qaumajuk - the light (of
the Winnipeg Art Gallery): Transformations in Canadian Inuit Arts."
Tim Pitsiulak, 2011
Gayle Uyagaki Kabloonak, 2023
Distinguished Emeritus Professor of Anthropology
Co-Chair, Tourism Studies Working Group
University of California, Berkeley
Friday, September 22nd, 3:30PM-5PM PDT
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During the more than sixty years that Nelson Graburn has been visiting the
Canadian North, studying and experimenting with Canadian Inuit arts, and living and
communicating with Inuit artists, life in the North and the life situations of Inuit artists have
undergone a huge revolution. Not only have schools, governments, electricity in permanent
housing, and communications by plane, phone and internet “urbanized” the North, but Inuit
artists have become aware of their global context and the art world itself, and many have
undertaken professional educations in the arts and crafts, and moved to live in the South.
original generation of artists – Kananginak, Qirnuajuak (Kenojuak), Charlie and Aisa
Shivuarapik, Jessie Oonark were pleased with the colonizers’ interest in and payment for
their products and soon were proud to project images of their material and spiritual world to
the outsiders. After the massive installation of schools, wooden houses, government services
and new forms of communication, those living in the North became more aware of the
significance of their “arts”, their place as “icons” of Canadianness, as well as their relative
poverty and their former very different and limited world view. A new generation
incorporated views of and from the outside world and, often becoming relatively wealthy,
they increasingly visited the South, to sell their works, attend openings and exhibitions,
attend schools and colleges, and for vacations.
They also became aware of their “relatives” in
Greenland and Alaska and, like them, they won political rights and agreements and degrees
of self-government. A few Canadian Inuit, like Alaskans in the USA and Greenlanders going
to Denmark, settled to practice and sell their arts in the South. By 2000 nearly a quarter of
Canadian Inuit lived in the South, for schooling, social and marital ties, employment – and
by preference, escaping the poverty, addictions – and cold – of the North. So a younger
generation of artists live in the South, even if they wore born in the North, and practice many
art forms, like Qallunaat (white) and other indigenous contemporary artists. Theirs is no
longer “tourist art” but it remains an “ethnic art”, expressing their contemporary identities,
struggles, and views of their ancestral culture. Their arts remain proud – and exploited –
icons of Canadian identity, but also express strong Circumpolar and postcolonial feelings.
Nelson Graburn first lived in the North in 1959 and again in 1960, as a
student at McGill and an employee of the Federal Government of Canada. He was struck by
the creativity of Inuit artists and the importance of their sanasimayangiit (things we made) in
their personal, cultural and economic lives. After his PhD at the U. Of Chicago, he returned
again to live in 23 Inuit communities in the North, in 1963-64, 1967-68, 1972, 1976, 1986,
1996, 2000, 2004 with shorter visits thereafter. He first published about Inuit art, as ‘Airport
Art’ in Canada (1967) and examined comparable movements among the world’s other
indigenous peoples, in Ethnic and Tourist Arts (1976). He has continued to research, teach
and publish about contemporary art, heritage, identity and tourism – and he communicates
almost daily with the Inuit, their children and grandchildren in the North via the Internet.