The Qaumajuq, which
opened last week, aims to reconcile Canada's colonial past.
Look at that rippling
exterior. | PHOTO BY LINDSAY REID
There's one piece you can't help but notice in Canada's new Qaumajuq
(KOW-ma-yourk) museum, which opened as an extension of the Winnipeg
Art Gallery (WAG) last week. It's a glistening space
suit sewn from spotted sealskin; futuristic helmet on top, traditional
hunting gear below. It is spectacular, even in pictures, created
by Iqaluit artist Jesse Tungilik as a childhood throwback to the
hunting clothes his mom made from caribou hide. The bulky ensemble,
worn in the hostile environs of northern Canadian, made Tungilik
feel like an astronaut on unfamiliar planets. It's a longing he
later translated to the piece, Tungilik told the
CBC, hoping to convey to Inuit people that they were not limited
in their life choices; they could, as it were, reach for the stars.
The $52.4 million Qaumajuq is groundbreaking for its scope, housing
the world's largest collection of contemporary art by Inuit (indigenous
peoples of northern Canada, as well as parts of Greenland and Alaska)
with 14,000 worksmost previously in storagerepresenting
more than 2,000 artists. In addition, 7,400 pieces in the museum
are on long-term loan from the Government of Nunavut,
the newest, largest, and most northernmost territory in Canada,
given to the Inuit in 1999 for self-government.
The building itself, in downtown Winnipeg, is an impressive sight:
The white-granite façade ripples, mimicking snowdrift landscapes
seen by Los Angeles-based designer Michael Maltzan on a trip to
Nunavut. At night, it's lit up like the northern
lights, with dancing imagery projected on the undulating exterior
accompanied by a soundtrack in a 20-minute loop.
The Visible Vault showcases 5,000 stone
carvings. | PHOTO BY LINDSAY REID
A major focal point of the 40,000-square-foot space is the Visible
Vault, a sleek three-story glass display showcasing 5,000 stone
carvings that traverse 34 indigenous communities: lazy walruses,
vessels, bears, birds, and hunters placed like precious jewels across
500 shelves. Visitors can watch conservators and curators working
within the vault, which is also visible from outside through a street-level
glass window. The museum also boasts a clay studio and kiln room,
and two exterior studios for stone carving and ice sculpting where
Indigenous artists will workplus classrooms, a theater space,
and a digital media studio.
And rather than just be a place where non-Inuit come to be educated,
the museum aims to be a place of dialogue and connection for Canada's
indigenous communitya place for them to tell their own stories.
Admission is free for all Indigenous Peoples and input was sought
from a range of Indigenous advisers, including Inuit birthright
organizations, and an Indigenous Language Keeper Circle who also
helped bestow the name. Qaumajuq is Inuktitut for "it is bright,
it is lit".
Behold the sealskin space
suit by Iqaluit artist Jesse Tungilik. | PHOTO BY LINDSAY
The history of Inuit relations in Canada is fraught. In its virtual
opening, WAG director and CEO Stephen Borys said the spirit
of Qaumajuq is to "acknowledge [Canada's] colonial past and move
forward in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration." For
a start, the WAG acknowledges that it was built on the ancestral
lands of the Anishinaabe, Ininiwak, Anishininiwak, Dakota, and Dene
peoples, and on the homeland of the Métis Nation. The new
space was developed in accordance with the 2015 recommendations
of Canada's Truth
and Reconciliation Commission, convened to address historical
injustices to Indigenous peoples.
As a result of the museum's colonial past, the provenance of some
of their permanent works might also be suspect; a policy is in place
that, if a work is found to be acquired through unethical means,
the museum will work towards its repatriation.
Vanita Salisbury is Thrillist's Senior Travel Writer.