It sadly looks as though I won’t be able to visit Nordatlantens Brygge to see Aka Høegh’s exhibition Ved Havet (By the Sea) (even though I keep getting SMS’s from SAS saying I can now check in on a flight from Aarhus to Copenhagen…every day). It closes on Sunday.
Though I am am not a fan of all of her work and find - in her early and mid-career - it often played into Western stereotypes of Inuit art, some of the art in this exhibition looks very beautiful. Like the driftwood umiak above, called Himmelrejse (Journey to the Sky).
I have been thinking a lot about Inuit photographers and photography lately in connection to my various projects. Thought I would share these two meta-photographic works, examining the methods and motives of one Inuit medium (because as we all know any medium used by an Inuk is an Inuit medium) through the lenses of two more recognizable Inuit media, namely the graphic arts and ivory carving.
Image 1: Kananginak Pootoogook’s famous image The First Tourist, 1992
Image 2: Bob Kussy of Ashoona Studios, Inuit Photographer (Peter Pitseolak)
I hadn’t heard of Mark Igloliorte (an Inuk from Nunatsiavut [Northern Labrador]) before I visited the Beat Nation exhibition now on view at the Power Plant contemporary art gallery in Toronto, and I’m both so upset for that and glad that I have come across these beautiful paintings.
His contribution to Beat Nation are a red skateboard rail, the “Komatik Skatebox” - active skating equipment-turned minimalist sculpture - and my favorite piece, a video-sculptural work where two small videos of the nalukataq (Inupiat blanket toss) are projected onto the top side of a skateboard mounted on the wall. The connection is to movement and energy between the very traditional and very modern sports. Unfortunately I can’t find any documentation of this, so I just suggest everyone visit the Power Plant and see it (and the rest of this landmark exhibition) for yourself.
On a different note Igloliorte has also produced these very current, psychological paintings, alongside a series of more current works mirroring cast-off objects from his studio called simply Diptychs (with the reverential and thus ironic message being clear). These, especially, show an intensity and mixture of foreboding and peace. Likewise, given the theme of kayakers and the composition, they at first recall a theme common to early 20th century photography (from both white photographers and early Inuit photographers, notably John Møller), but being in a highly painterly style and so thoroughly constructing the atmosphere with very non-photographic textures, they also position themselves against the old photographs, as a type of reviewing.
Her work is most interesting to me, because of its added element to the traditional vs. fine art discussion as a context imposed by the Western preconception of indigenous art, just one of its many levels. As Sonya is Inupiat, the material is “traditional” - sealskin, bladders and intestines from whale and walrus - but the form is not. “Traditional” is almost entirely inclined to what the West would identify as “craft”, functional objects first and so lacking artistic value. And so it upholds an element of the cultural structure that devalues indigenous art, by saying that the true indigenous creation is “humble” and “utilitarian” - to use the Western connotations of “craft”, which contribute to the “noble savage” picture of indigenous peoples as creatures of relative intelligence dedicating effort and patience just to survive. Any other incarnation of art made by indigenous artists cannot, in the Western art world, be called indigenous, least of all “traditional.”
The form denies the other half of “traditional”, by abstracting the “traditional” material (abstract art as the “purest” or most arty form of visual art in the Western sense, as it takes in no references but itself). So the artist articulates the flexibility of the “traditional” materials and the continuity of indigenous heritage; the picture of “traditional art” is defined (by the West) as an unbroken aesthetic continuation, which is why in exhibitions of indigenous art, contemporary objects are often placed alongside ones centuries old. And so this work taps into a deeper notion of pure, aesthetic beauty that all art aspires to, certainly including indigenous art whether or not it looks like “craft”, but which the Western pretext denies of any art that self-identifies as indigenous.
Sam Tutanuak, Back in ‘58. A song and video that tell the story of relocation of Inuit from Nunavik in northern Quebec to remote locations thousands of kilometers away in the high arctic. As with every such abuse against indigenous people throughout the world, when enough time had passed and enough people got loud enough the Canadian government apologized and handed out monies, and made the victims into “heroes” for a few minutes. And also as with every such abuse, the government managed to apologize without admitting fault, the immense risk to the lives of those displaced (the ecosystem and animals being vastly different from their homes), the loss of local knowledge and the government’s actual intentions in the relocation - although it seems obvious that they were using Inuit to mark their “sovereignty” in the high arctic, which only makes it darker. What would have happened had they abducted white, rural Canadians and dropped them in a land with no shelter or means of getting food?
Another excellent work by Pia Arke, from the series Legends. In these works Pia attempts to counter the major historic means of Western understanding of Greenland from the first explorations through to today: mapping. From this belief, mapping illustrates the “truths” of the land, it informs and brings confidence to the explorer (scientist, general), and it conveys what is most interesting to these figures; that being mainly its vastness, ruggedness, geographic uniqueness, and in his mind, reveals the nature of the lives of those in the land. The way such figures read an extensive coastal map like this with many fjords and natural harbours, is that the people of Ittoqqortoormiit are bound by their connection to the sea, and so it defines their lives. But it is the people who define their lives. And so Pia places portraits atop these maps, in the foreground, to say that people define the land just as the land contributes to their definition. But to know a land one must know the people, and to know the people one will inherently know the land, because their knowledge of it extends far beyond any maps, ice charts and satellite images.