The photograph shows children playing in an indoor swimming pool that looks strangely organic. This could be the very interior of the giant whale that swallowed Jonah but, in this case, scooped up half the children of a village.
But where is this village? Would you believe in the far north of Quebec? An Inuit community called Kuujjuaq? And the photographer? An Inuit artist named Chris Sampson, who is better known as a commercial, rather than a fine arts, photographer.
Ordinarily, we do not think of Inuit children frolicking in a swimming pool. We tend to picture them snuggled up to their parents inside an igloo or racing across the snow in a dogsled. But those images are increasingly outdated, the remnants of a romanticized past.
Likewise, we don’t tend to think of photography when it comes to Inuit art. But Inuit artists are experimenting with every conceivable medium these days and are not just carving soapstone or making prints.
A new exhibition of contemporary photographs by Inuit artists called Re-visioning the North has opened at the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada Art Gallery in Hull as part of the National Arts Centre’s multi-venue, multi-disciplinary Northern Scene festival.
The government art gallery has jumped the gun, the official dates for the festival being April 25 to May 4. But that’s OK because this early opening gives us much more time to savour some unusual and impressive art that may cause you to rethink the North and its artists.
Barry Pottle is among the five contemporary photographers represented in the show. He is originally from Labrador but has lived in Ottawa for many years. Pottle creates images that show the clash of cultures experienced by both Inuit living in the Arctic and in southern cities. His aesthetic is heavily influenced by non-Inuit art. Example: His visually stunning photograph titled “To the Can,” shows a pile of gleaming silver cans used to preserve food. In the foreground, in the centre, is an ulu, the traditional curved knife used in the North to carve meat. This juxtaposition of the old and new in Inuit food is presented like a traditional European still life painting.
The other three artists in the exhibition are Kayley Mackay, Jimmy Manning, and Matthew Nuqingaq. Their photographs range from northern landscapes to a scene of a snowmobile pulling a sled that once would have been propelled by a dog team.
The organizers of Northern Scene have promised the extravaganza will offer many surprises as people in the Ottawa area experience what may be their first real taste of contemporary Inuit theatre, music, and art. Well, when it comes to Re-visioning the North, the organizers were right.
Re-visioning the North continues at the Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Art Gallery, 10 Wellington St. in Hull, until May 4. The gallery is open from 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday to Friday. There is no admission charge.