In Among All These Tundras, 12 circumpolar artists challenge our views of the North
After Heather Igloliorte, associate professor in the Department of Art History, attended the first-ever Arctic Arts Summit in 2017, she started to think of ways she could bring circumpolar artists into conversation with each other.
“Often we think of everything in Canada as First Nations, Inuit and Métis,” says Igloliorte, who is also the Concordia University Research Chair in Indigenous Art History and Community Engagement.
“That’s one potential frame but it’s not the only way to talk about Indigenous art.”
When Michèle Thériault, director of Concordia’s Leonard and Bina Ellen Art Gallery, invited Igloliorte to make a proposal for the venue’s Indigenous exhibition programming, she seized the opportunity to develop a show from this viewpoint.
Now, together with PhD students Charissa von Harringa and Amy Prouty, Igloliorte is co-curating Among All These Tundras at the Ellen Art Gallery from September 4 until October 27.
The exhibition will showcase a variety of works by 12 circumpolar artists, including films, photographs, sculptures, and text and media installations.
It also features a handful of small, 3D-printed glow-in-the-dark bears. “They’re replicas of an ivory miniature that belongs to the artist’s family,” Prouty explains.
Land, resurgence and sovereignty
The exhibition revolves around three themes: land, resurgence and sovereignty. While circumpolar peoples may have different histories, von Harringa notes that they often share many of the same experiences and concerns.
“Each of these themes addresses a wide variety of issues around ecology and protecting the environment," she says.
“There are only a handful of circumpolar exhibitions and that’s interesting for historiographical purposes. How do you piece together a circumpolar art history when you have these various contexts and colonial histories?”
Igloliorte says many of the pieces are serious given their subject matters, but there are also strong threads of humour and absurdity within the exhibition. She hopes that by including works that are funny, visitors will shift the way they perceive northern art.
“We have a lot of ideas about the North and what we think the North is,” she says. “A big part of this show is to really question those preconceived ideas and present something that’s a little different and hopefully surprising.”
Guest talks and more
The gallery and curators hope to show the exhibition at other spaces after its inauguration at Concordia. They agree there’s a growing interest surrounding circumpolar art around the world and that Indigenous artists are meditating on the past, present and future in order to reclaim their histories and narratives.
“Institutions are changing,” says von Harringa. “They’re taking an interest in hearing other voices and bringing Indigenous artists into the gallery.”
To complement the exhibition, the gallery has developed a rich program of events. They include a tour of the show with the curators and artists, as well as performances by Iñupiaq artist Allison Akootchook Warden, Inuit poet Taqralik Partridge and Sami yoiker Ánde Somby, who is also an international legal scholar for Indigenous rights.
Nipivut, the local Inuit radio show on CKUT radio, is also participating, and class tours are currently being organized, including one in Arabic. The curators plan to bring in groups of Inuit from all over Montreal to see the show, as well as collaborate with local organizations to offer an Inuktitut tour of the exhibition.
Prouty expects visitors will walk away from the exhibition with a newfound appreciation for northern art. She has been studying Inuit art for many years and wants people to realize that their works are contemporary, exciting and cool.
“They’re just making art that is so strong now that it can’t be ignored anymore,” says Prouty.