By Mabell, Dave on January 21, 2020.
Inuit art has become a significant part of Canadian culture in recent decades. The University of Lethbridge is home to an impressive collection of that art.
Now a selection of Inuit prints recently donated is on view for the first time in Lethbridge. They’re part of a large bequest from Margaret (“Marmie”) Hess, a Calgary woman who supported many arts and community activities during her 100 years.
“Marnie wanted her gift to assist young people with learning about the arts, and there is no better way to achieve this than to have a student curate an exhibition,” observes art history and museum studies professor Josephine Mills, director of the university’s art galleries.
Senior fine arts student Jaylyn Potts had the privilege of examining much of the Inuit art at U of L before selecting a number of works for “Unikkausivut: Stories from the North.” The exhibition will remain on view in the Hess Gallery on the university’s Level 6 through March 13, and there’s no admission fee.
“I was immediately drawn to the Inuit prints, particularly those that used a vibrant colour palette, had intricate and detailed texture, and had a unique and compelling title,” says Potts.
Though a number of the works “appear charming and playful,” she points out they’re based on “dark and gruesome Inuit stories.”
“The juxtaposition between story and artwork provokes and inspires us as viewers to think about Inuit stories and the influence that they have had on Inuit culture in the past and present.”
Trying to uncover those stories was part of the challenge, points out art gallery registrar Juliet Graham. Often, an art work may tell just part of the story, she adds.
Related art works may tell different variations on the story, Potts says. Some are like “an extended fable.”
Many of the works Hess collected were from the Cape Dorset community, near the southern end of Baffin Island overlooking Hudson Strait.
But other Inuit communities are represented in the exhibition as well. Small coloured symbols are used to indicate each print’s origin.
Gallery visitors can gain further insight into Inuit art by watching a brief National Film Board feature which accompanies the prints.
The gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. weekdays, but until 8:30 p.m. on Thursdays. It’s also the location for a series of no-charge Saturday events, 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., including a session on pins this Saturday and a Feb. 29 event on “freeform painting.”
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