Inuit women’s works draw Montreal crowds
Three generations on display at downtown gallery
The works of three generations of Nunavik women now line the walls of a Montreal art gallery.
Their work, in ink, pencil and stone prints, tells the story of Inuit women to curious passers-by who can see into the gallery located along a busy stretch of Saint-Laurent Boulevard.
There are the iconic images of a mother in an amautik with her infant’s face peaking out the back, and women fishing, sewing sealskin and throat-singing.
La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse launched Women of the Arctic Nov. 19, the first in a series of exhibitions and events showcasing works by Inuit artists from Nunavik and Nunavut.
The launch drew a full house, eager to view the work and listen to a throat-singing performance by Evie Mark and Taqralik Partridge.
The series itself features the work of artists Laina Nulukie, Jennifer LaPage, Jessie Koneak Jones, Maggie S. Kiatainaq and the late Leah Nuvalinga Qumaluk.
The series, which will develop over a period of three years, is made up of exhibitions, performances and artist presentations – all to promote the work of female artists through different media.
“Everyone had the same feeling that these were amazing and strong works,” said Noémi McComber, the exhibit’s curator at La Centrale gallery. “[So] we decided to do it as a series.”
The featured artists include Laina Nulukie, an artist and silversmith from Inukjuak, now on an artistic residency in Montreal offered through the Nunavik Fund for Arts and Literature.
During her residency, she plans to develop a new series of work based on the exhibit’s themes.
One of her sketches on display is called Qimmiruluapik, named after the traditional throat-singing piece about dogs.
“I started to draw something that is always in my head,” Nulukie said of the print, which shows two women draped in colourful shawls, with the image of sled dogs above them.
The residency has helped expose her to new artists and media, Nulukie said, not to mention the preparation that goes into an exhibit.
“I feel like I’ve got more experience,” she said. “It’s helped a lot.”
Works by Kuujjuaq-based artist Jennifer LaPage are also on display. The mother of four, who works mostly with ink and paper through a dot drawing technique, goes by the artist name Jianiva.
“I can’t think of my own ideas, I need to look at a photo to start creating,” LaPage said. “But I play with the photo, I don’t copy it directly.
“I never know what the outcomes of my drawings are, but once I’m satisfied, I stop.”
LaPage says she loves illustrating people wearing traditional Inuit wear, as many of her pieces depict.
“I love our traditional clothing, it’s warm, it’s comfortable and it’s beautiful,” she said.
Some of the oldest prints exhibited at La Centrale gallery are those of the late Leah Nuvalinga Qumaluk, the well-known Puvirnituq printmaker, who passed away last August.
Her work has been shown in New York, Paris and in a number of Canadian collections.
Qumaluk created hundreds of prints since the early 1970s, including the eight exhibited.
Her narrative stone prints employ only a few colours but often many characters, like the 1972 “Morse surprenant les chasseurs” (walrus surprising the hunters) which shows a walrus emerge between two kayakers, with a flock of geese overhead.
In another, “Attente de retour des traineaux,” 1978 (waiting for the sleds to return) a group of four, hooded women’s faces seem to peer out of a blizzard.
Jessie Koneak Jones, originally from Quaqtaq and the first Nunavik recipient of the artist residency funded by the Nunavik Fund for Arts and Literature, also has works on display.
Her ink and watercolour pieces usually depict landscapes and people in them, typically hunting or gathering berries.
Koneak Jones said it was “awesome” working alongside other talented female artists.
Koneak Jones worked a school teacher in Kuujjuaq for many years where she taught the arts. In 1988, she opened her own, now-closed, gallery Innivik Arts and Crafts to showcase her work and the work of other local artists in Kuujjuaq.
Another printmaker and illustrator, Maggie Kiatainaq just retired as the long-time illustrator at the Kativik School Board.
Born to two sculptors in Kangiqsujuaq, printmaking is her main media, which she uses to illustrate traditional family activities. Kiatainaq has participated in printmaking workshops in Puvirnituq, Cape Dorset and Winnipeg.
When someone asked her the significance of a piece with Inuit fishing images, Kiatainaq laughs.
“I don’t really know, I just like fishing,” she responds. “I didn’t think I had to explain it.”
The Women of the Arctic exhibit is showing until Dec. 19 at Montreal’s La Centrale Galerie Powerhouse at 4296 St. Laurent Boulevard.
On Dec. 16, Arnait Video productions’ Marie-Hélène Cousineau will also screen the films and videos of Elisapie Isaac, Alethea-Ann Aggiuq Arnaquq-Baril and Mary Kunuk there.