Released October 08, 2004
From Nov. 26, 2004 through Jan. 30, 2005, the Peabody Essex Museum hosts Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic, the first major museum exhibition of contemporary art from Canada’s newest territory, Nunavut. The exhibition includes more than 50 artworks—from sculpture, prints, and textile art to photography, video, and sound installations—all created in the last half-century, a time of burgeoning artistic and cultural awareness and pride among Canada’s Inuit. Our Land is a collaborative project of the Peabody Essex Museum, the Government of Canada, and the Government of Nunavut.
“We are very honored to be working with the Peabody Essex Museum to showcase the culture, heritage, and talent of Inuit,” says Louis Tarpardjuk, Nunavut’s Culture, Language, Elders and Youth Minister. “Inuit culture, belief system, and the natural arctic world provide Inuit with seemingly unlimited subject matter for artistic expression. I believe Our Land clearly demonstrates this diversity.”
The vast eastern Canadian Arctic has been home to Inuit since ancient times. In 1999, Canada redrew its map for the first time in 50 years to create Nunavut from the Northwest Territories. Nunavut means “our land” in the Inuktitut language. This remarkable transfer of power, done peacefully and democratically, meant the dream of a new territory had finally become a reality for Inuit.
The exhibition focuses on Inuit themes of cosmology and spirituality, families, place, season, time, and gathering. It includes installations featuring Inuit throat singing, storytelling, and contemporary music, as well as a presentation of Nunavut, a video installation by Zacharias Kunuk, recently shown at Documenta 11, the world's largest contemporary art exhibition held in Kassel, Germany. Peter Irniq, artist and Commissioner of Nunavut, will create an Inuksuk, or “likeness of a person,” as part of the exhibition. Inuksuit (plural) are stone figures—beacons for travelers in Canada’s north, symbolizing the strength, leadership, and motivation of Inuit.
“Native peoples have always adopted new forms of expression and materials in response to ever-changing conditions. And we feel inspired to keep pace with the latest creative currents among artists in their communities,” says John Grimes, deputy director for research, new media, and information at PEM, and co-curator of Our Land, along with Karen Kramer, assistant curator of Native American Art. “The recent international acclaim of works by artists such as Zacharias Kunuk is an occasion to take stock of the tremendous creative output by Inuit artists over the past two generations.”
The Peabody Essex Museum is an ideal venue for Our Land. The museum, dedicated to art and culture from around the world, has one of the oldest ongoing collections of Native American art in the Western Hemisphere. During its recent transformation into one of America’s top 20 art museums, PEM created a gallery for rotating installations of Native American art. The museum is also committed to forging partnerships with Native American artists through projects such as the Education through Cultural and Historical Organizations (ECHO) Act, a federally funded education and cultural enrichment initiative, annually serving hundreds of thousands of people in Alaska, Hawai’i, and Massachusetts.
Nunavut, a region larger than Alaska, encompasses most of the Canadian Arctic, reaching from Hudson Bay to the North Pole. With landscapes that range from stark vistas to mountains and fiords, it is a territory of extraordinary variety and beauty. The presentation of Our Land acknowledges the remarkable resilience and growth of Inuit creative expression over the past five decades.
Today, Inuit art includes a wide range of media and can be found in public and private collections in Canada and other parts of the world. Germaine Arnaktauyok, Kenojuak Ashevak, Pitseolak Ashoona, Pudlo Pudlat, Jesse Oonark, Zacharias Kunuk, and Lucie Idlout are just a few of the artists who have contributed to a vital body of sculpture, drawing, printmaking, textile arts, and work in other media, that are featured in Our Land. The outstanding creative achievements of such artists have helped give voice to Inuit values and beliefs and spurred economic and social development in their communities. Our Land aims to introduce the art and unique worldview of Canada’s contemporary Inuit to visitors of the Peabody Essex Museum.
In addition to the exhibition, catalogue, and DVD, the museum will host an active calendar of public programming featuring Inuit art and culture, including films, lectures, artist demonstrations, online exhibitions, and dance and musical performances.
Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic, has received financial support from the Government of Nunavut’s Department of Culture, Language, Elders and Youth, the Government of Canada, the Constance Killam Trust, and the Elizabeth Killam Rodgers Trust.
Nunavut collection of contemporary Inuit art
The Government of Nunavut collection of contemporary Inuit art, which contains more than 5,000 art objects, is currently housed at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, the Northwest Territories. The plan is to eventually relocate the works to a permanent museum in Nunavut. The exhibition at PEM marks the first time the Nunavut collection will travel outside Canada.
Native American art collection, Peabody Essex Museum
The Native American art collection is one of the oldest ongoing collections of its kind in the nation and is recognized internationally for the exceptional quality of the more than 20,000 works from the western hemisphere that it includes. The museum continues to acquire important contemporary works by living artists of Native descent from the Americas. Through exhibitions, scholarship, public programs and interpretation, the Native American curatorial program provides a forum for exploring multifaceted aspects of identity, tradition, and innovation for Native artists and their communities.