Arctic Artistry


Explore the evolving role of Indigenous artists of the North American Arctic in this new exhibition of 20 rarely shown objects, many from the BMA’s collection.

Historically, the Indigenous artists who lived in the Arctic lands created ritualistic and utilitarian objects whose beauty was meant to honor the beings that sustained life in the harshest climates. As an influx of explorers, missionaries, whalers, and gold prospectors arrived in their lands in the late 19th and early 20th century, Indigenous artists’ roles shifted as they became vital economic forces that sustained their communities by producing art, including model kayaks and cribbage boards, made for sale to non-Native markets. By the mid-20th century, Canadian Inuit artists began carving animal sculptures and producing prints in collaborative workshops.

Artworks from these partnerships are included in the exhibition, such as Summer Caribou Hunt (1960) by Kiakshuk and Searching for Seal Holes (1960) by Innukjuakju Pudlat. In 1961, the BMA acquired both of these prints from the esteemed Kinngait Co-operative (also known as the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative). Artworks created in the last half of the century spoke to both internal and external audiences, dancing between the traditional, the functional, and the commercial. Examples include Judas Ullulaq’s sculpture The Caribou Hunter (c. 1970s) and Frightened by the Land Spirits (c. 1994), a wall hanging by Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq. Works by both of these artists have been featured in museums and galleries far beyond the Arctic.

The most contemporary work in the show is Three Thousand (2017). The 14-minute video by Canadian Inuit artist asinnajaq weaves together archival footage from the National Film Board of Canada with original animation to reveal 100 years of colonization within the Inuit Nunangat (homeland).

This exhibition is curated by Darienne Turner, Assistant Curator for Indigenous Art of the Americas.

This exhibition is generously supported by Kwame Webb and Kathryn Bradley and the Jean and Allan Berman Textile Endowment Fund.