METAMORPHOSIS, ELEVEN ARTISTS FROM NUNAVIK
An article about the exhibition, Metamorphosis, curated by Maurice Achard, held at the Canadian Guild of Crafts in Montreal from May 25 to June 30, 2006, in celebration of the Guild's 100th anniversary. The exhibition featured Inukjuak sculptors Lucassie Echalook, Noah Echalook, Thomassie Echalook, Eli Elijassiapik, and Jobie Ohaituk. The article was written by Inuit Art Foundation's James Sinclair and published in the 2006 fall issue of Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 3, no. 3:30.
Eleven artists from five different communities in Nunavik travelled to the Canadian Guild of Crafts in Montreal this past June for the opening of an exhibition dedicated entirely to their art. Entitled Metamorphosis, the exhibition was organized to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the guild. As a focus, the guild chose to pay tribute to a region whose importance to Inuit art history was as significant as its own.
While often overlooked today, Nunavik has the honour of being the birthplace of commercial Inuit art. In 1949, James Houston travelled there on behalf of the guild to "assess the artistic merit of the sculpture and its market potential" (Pathy, exhibition catalogue: 3). It was in Nunavik that, as Houston wrote, Inuit art was "discovered" by the outside world. The proliferation of Inuit art for export helped generate much needed revenue for Inuit suffering from poor hunting seasons in the North and helped to inspire an industry that continues to thrive today. While the artistic output from Nunavik has waned somewhat since its heyday, the most exceptional pieces continue to garner admiration from curators, dealers and collectors around the globe.
Collaborating with La Fédération des cooperatives du Nouveau-Quebec, the guild commissioned new works from 11 of the most recognized artists in Nunavik. The artists were chosen from among hundreds of their peers for their talent as well as for their unique perspective on the changing way of life in the North. Each had been born into a nomadic existence of subsistence hunting - a time of igloos, dog-sleds, and legends - and had witnessed their lifestyle transform before them, bringing with it modern villages, snowmobiles and mass media.
"I went up North and met with each of the artists and told them that it was a really important exhibition and that I wanted their best work," said guest curator Maurice Achard.
"And one of the things that struck me was the quality of the carvings and the expression of the sculpture. Everybody was really impressed at the fédération [FCNQ]. They thought that these were some of the best sculptures they had seen in a long time."
Although it was a celebration of the guild's early involvement in the creation of an Inuit art industry, Metamorphosis had little in the way of historic flavour. A thoroughly contemporary exhibition, it was meant to showcase the best sculpture from Nunavik. Featured were 22 soapstone pieces: 11 large sculptures and 11 smaller works. With the larger works measuring up to two feet high, they were a far cry from the early carvings in the guild's permanent collection, housed on the second floor of the gallery.
The smaller works were commissioned for the sake of continuity, to complement those in the permanent collection. In some cases, the early works were created by some of the invited artists' parents or relatives. "We wanted to establish the origins and evolution of contemporary Inuit art," said Achard.
In keeping with the tide of the exhibition, the larger works all relate to the theme of transformation, perhaps a metaphor for the evolution and mutability of the art form. Some tell of age-old myths and legends, while others illustrate narratives born entirely of the artist's imagination. Each of the larger works appear in this article along with a brief statement about the artist and the work.
Houston, James A.
1951 "In Search of Contemporary Eskimo Art." Canadian Art, 9:99-104.
Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 3, no. 3:30.