AGO Media Release

Opening June 16, Tunirrusiangit reflects the legacy of Inuit artists Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak through a contemporary lens

Four Inuit curators led the exhibition’s development and ground this major retrospective in first person narratives, storytelling, poetry and film
TORONTO – This summer, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) welcomes Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak, a unique celebration of two iconic Inuit artists as seen through the eyes of four contemporary Inuit curators. Opening in Toronto on June 16, 2018 the exhibition showcases over 100 works on paper by “the grandmother of Inuit art” Kenojuak Ashevak (1927–2013), and her nephew Tim Pitsiulak (1967–2016), one of the most sought-after contemporary Inuit artists in his lifetime.

Brought vividly to life by a team of Inuit artists and curators – including sculptor Koomuatuk Curley (based in Ottawa), writer and storyteller Taqralik Partridge (based in Kautokeino, Norway), curator Jocelyn Piirainen (based in Ottawa) and performer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory (based in Iqaluit) – this exhibition marks a new type of curatorial collaboration for the AGO. The curatorial team of Inuit artists led this exhibition at every stage, developing new artworks as well as shaping everything from public programming to exhibition texts.

Kinngait’s most internationally acclaimed artist, Kenojuak Ashevak is renowned for her fluid graphic storytelling and keen design sensibility. Together with drawings by Tim Pitsiulak, whose signature approach reflected a deep appreciation that “art is part of everything,” the exhibition presents a dynamic vision of contemporary Inuit life – a vision reflected throughout the show in decisions by the curatorial team and expressed through their contributions and first person responses.

“Through the Tunirrusiangit exhibition we’ve aimed to create a bridge between the past and the future, and to give the public a unique view of the work of two incredible artists,” says Tunirrusiangit co-curator Jocelyn Piirainen. “In Inuktitut, Tunirrusiangit means ‘their gifts’ or ‘the gifts they gave.’ It’s a fitting exhibition title since it recognizes the artists’ lasting legacies, while conveying how inspirational and impactful their work has been on each of us, as Inuit curators.”

As a liaison between the AGO and the curatorial team, Piirainen was instrumental in ensuring the exhibition reflects the curatorial team’s perspective at every stage. An Inuk living in the south, she also contributed an essay, “Gracious Acceptance of Their Gifts,” to the exhibition catalogue, due out in June 2018.

About the Exhibition:

Upon entering the exhibition, visitors will pass through Silaup Putunga (2018), a constantly changing projection created by curator and performer Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. This work, whose title means “portal’ in Inuktitut, was created in collaboration with cinematographer Jamie Griffiths and is the result of two video projections meeting on a single screen, allowing visitors to experience Williamson Bathory’s uaajeerneq (Greenlandic mask dance) performed against an ever-changing Arctic landscape.

“I’m showing the idea of sinking from one surface of reality to another by travelling through layers of my face, my mask and the landscape/icescape I live upon. First, you see my face like it is the size of a mountain, then you plunge closer and closer to my eye and pierce right through my iris. On the other side of my eyeball, you see nuna and siku – the land and sea ice. Is this vista my inner landscape?” Williamson Bathory says.

In a gallery space featuring Kenojuak Ashevak’s images of summer hunting camps, visitors will be invited to sit in a qarmaq (a traditional sod house) to hear original stories written and shared by co-curator, writer and storyteller Taqralik Partridge. Newsprint is commonly used to cover qarmaqs in the summer, and this particular structure is covered in archival snippets from the New York Times that call attention to the language used in the past to describe Inuit.

“This structure gives the visitor something of the idea of the interior of a qarmaq. It is made in a way that lets people feel they are in a defined space; where they can look at the pieces of overlapping newsprint, and the footage of the community of Kinngait, and listen to a story or a poem. Imagine that people would have spent many hours looking at the newsprint on their walls, and what thoughts they might have had about what they saw there. This wallpaper pulls up the things that the walls would have said about Inuit, and we hope that visitors will come away with more questions about how Inuit have been perceived in history,” Partridge says.

Voices of the families of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak will be heard throughout the exhibition, thanks to interviews filmed by artist, sculptor and Kinngait born co-curator Koomuatuk Curley. Tim Pitiulak’s nephew, Curley recorded the interviews in Inuktitut and added English subtitles. The interviews feature Silaqi Ashevak, Kenojuak Ashevak’s daughter, discussing her mother’s artwork, love of fishing and travels to the South; stories from Mary Pitsiulak, Tim Pitsiulak’s widow, about the artist’s family; and Peesee Stephens and Shaa Pitsiulak, Tim Pitsiulak’s sisters, speaking about their childhood in Nunavut and their family’s history with the land and hunting.

“We are working for these two artists and they are challenging us,” says Curley.

About the Partnership:

Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak is the first project to be presented by the AGO’s new Department of Indigenous and Canadian Art and was organized in partnership with Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage (MICH), with the support of Dorset Fine Arts, a division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.

“Inviting an Inuit curatorial team to lead this exhibition marks the AGO’s acknowledgement of and commitment to Indigenous voices and expertise. Kenjuak Ashevak is one of the most-represented artists in the AGO’s collection. We hope that this model of collaboration will challenge conventional exhibition development and transform the art museum,” says Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator of Canadian Art at the AGO.

Dedicated to bringing together Inuit and non-Inuit researchers, artists and stakeholders, MICH has been at the centre of efforts to support Inuit visual culture. Anna Hudson, a former AGO curator and now a professor at York University and Principal Investigator of MICH, brings to the project a deep awareness of the curators’ artistic strengths and the vital roles Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak played in the development of Inuit contemporary art.

“Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage is committed to supporting all forms of Inuit culture, which is inseparable from Inuit social well-being, language preservation, and cultural identity,” Hudson says. “Laakkuluk, Koomuatuk, Taqralik, and Jocelyn, through their distinct artistic practices, are each uniquely passionate cultural advocates, role models, and change-makers. It’s been thrilling to see how their contemporary lens has guided this exhibition.”

Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario in partnership with Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage, with the support of Dorset Fine Arts, a division of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative.

Lead Sponsor: TD Bank Group
Lead Supporter: The W. Garfield Weston Foundation
Generously supported by: Goring Family Foundation
The Willmott Bruce Hunter Foundation
Jackman Foundation
Heather M. & Richard M. Thomson
Government Partner: Canada Council for the Arts

ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF INDIGENOUS AND CANADIAN ART
Co-led by Wanda Nanibush, Curator, Indigenous Art and Georgiana Uhlyarik, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, the Department of Indigenous and Canadian Art was created to better reflect the Nation to Nation relationship that underlines the treaty relationship that allowed Canada to come into existence. This new name acknowledges the historical and contemporary position of Indigenous Art as existing prior to and extending beyond Canada’s borders.

ABOUT THE ART GALLERY OF ONTARIO
Located in Toronto, Canada’s largest city of 5.9 million, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) is one of the largest art museums in North America. The AGO’s collection of close to 95,000 works ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art such as Untilled by Pierre Huyghe to European masterpieces such as Peter Paul Rubens’s The Massacre of The Innocents; from the vast collection by the Group of Seven to works by established and emerging Indigenous Canadian artists; with a photography collection that tracks the impact of the medium with deep holdings of works by artists such as Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus; and with focused collections in Gothic boxwood miniatures and Western and Central African art. Drawing on this collection—as well as collaborations with museums around the world—the AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, taking special care to showcase diverse and underrepresented artists. A major expansion designed by Frank Gehry in 2008 with lead support from the family of Ken Thomson makes the AGO a highly-photographed architectural landmark. Visit ago.ca and follow @AGOToronto to learn more.The Art Gallery of Ontario is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO members, donors and private-sector partners.

March 3 – May 27, 2018:        Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Mirrors

June 16 – Aug.12, 2018:         Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak & Tim Pitsiulak

July 12 – Oct. 21, 2018:          Rebecca Belmore: Facing the Monumental

Sept. 28, 2018 – Jan. 2019:    Anthropocene

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