Artful Musing

ARTFUL BLOGGER: Inuit art you can bank on at the NAC

Big banks have taken a beating recently for importing foreign workers to steal the jobs of Canadians. So, for a change of pace, let me say something positive about one of those big banks: TD Bank Group.

The bank we once knew as Toronto-Dominion began acquiring artwork in the 1960s. In 1967, Canada’s Centennial, the bank started collecting Inuit art. Thankfully, the bank is still collecting and you can see some of its recent star acquisitions in the ground floor lobby of the National Arts Centre in an exhibition titled Inuit Ullumi: Inuit Today.

The exhibition is part of the NAC’s Northern Scene, which officially continues from April 25 to May 4, although many of the art shows associated with this multi-venue extravaganza are already running and will continue after the festival officially ends.

Face Transforming and Singing, by Annie Pootoogook

The TD show truly gives us Inuit art of “today.” There is a mixture of sculptures and drawings, but these are not your traditional scenes of hunters, mothers, and mythological creatures. Instead, we see a stone sculpture of a young man listening to his MP3 player and very realistic looking domestic scenes from the likes of Ottawa-based Annie Pootoogook and the very “in” Dorset-based artist Shuvinai Ashoona.

Many of the artists in the TD show are also part of the far larger and more spectacular exhibition called Dorset Seen at Carleton University Art Gallery. Participating artists include the aforementioned Pootoogook and Ashoona, plus such other Inuit art stars as Tim Pitsiulak and Ovilu Tunnillie.

Both of these exhibitions demonstrate how contemporary Inuit artists are increasingly daring to show, not just an idealized Arctic, but a land which like the rest of the world watches television, drives motorized vehicles and has social problems related to family violence, substance abuse, and other ills.

One Northern Scene exhibition in the Firestone Gallery at the Ottawa Art Gallery is called Takushurnaituk: Things Never Seen Before. This a sculpture exhibition built around one large stone work in the Firestone Collection called Ijitualik (One-eyed Figure) by Aisa Qumaaluk Sivuaraapik from Puvirnituq in northern Quebec. All the other works in the exhibition are borrowed from other collections and are unusual examples of sculptures from the same region.

Down the hall at the Ottawa Art Gallery is an art rental office, which also stages exhibitions and currently has a solo show by photographer Barry Pottle, an Inuit man originally from Labrador but now living in Ottawa. Pottle is one of the rising stars of the Inuit art world. His photographs juxtapose the old and the new, creating scenes, for example, of traditional Inuit ulu knives arranged in a still life motif with shiny silver tin cans from a supermarket.

Cape Dorset at Night, by Itee Pootoogook.

These are just some of the many art exhibitions around the city linked to Northern Scene. The shows offer the next best thing to an actual visit to the Arctic and, for that, we can thank companies like TD, who may offer ridiculously low rates on savings accounts but do spend some of the millions of dollars wrung from your hard-earned cash on some superb art we can all enjoy.

Visit Northern Scene for event information. Most of the art exhibitions are free except for those at the National Gallery of Canada and other national museums.