Works from the uLethbridge Art Collection
Curated by David Smith
Reception: Wednesday, June 21, 9 – 10:30 am, Main Gallery (W600)
Responding to the untimely death of Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook, David Smith curates a selection of twentieth century Inuit works from the uLethbridge Art Collection.
In September of 2016, Canada lost one of its most significant artists: Annie Pootoogook was an Inuk artist from Cape Dorset known for depicting the harsh realities of everyday life in the Canadian North. These works set her apart from many other Inuit artists who created more romanticized images using idealized forms. In 2006 she was awarded the Sobey Art Award (Canada’s largest prize for young Canadian artists).
This summer, to honour her memory, I have chosen to exhibit a selection of drawings and prints from Northern Canada that have never been shown at the gallery before. Unfortunately, none of Annie Pootoogook’s own work is presently in the University of Lethbridge Art Gallery’s Collection. I am, however, pleased to be able to include a print by her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona titled Young Woman and Owl, as well as five prints by her uncle Kananginak Pootoogook (two of which are on the outer panels).
For many Canadians, the challenges of life in the north seem distant both geographically and socially. The stereotypical imagery of the happy eskimo has been propagated ad nauseum from the 19th century onward. This reductive formula of representation has masked perceptions about life in the north. It’s easy to forget that according to Statistics Canada as of 2006, the life expectancy for an Inuit person is 9.3 years shorter than the national average. In 2016, the National Inuit Suicide Prevention Strategy put forth by Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami stated the following: “There were 745 Inuit who died by suicide during the 14-year period between 1999 and 2013 in Inuit Nunangat. The impact of this many deaths by suicide on a population of 60,000 is challenging to convey. More disturbing is how little the overall rate of suicide among Inuit has changed over time.” The impacts of climate change will also have a disproportionate effect on food security in the north as access to wildlife becomes restricted and safety risks increase from the changes in the thickness of sea ice. These are just some of the real obstacles facing the people living in Northern Canada.
Annie Pootoogook’s work provided considerable visibility to the actual experience of the Inuit. In thinking about what reconciliation with Indigenous Peoples may look like, it’s important to be aware of the realities beyond the stereotypes and think about what can be done to provide the Inuit with the support they need. I hope that the time you spend with these artworks provides you with as much inspiration as it has given me.
– David Smith, Preparator / Assistant Curator