Saturday, October 27, 2012

Inuit Art, Culture, and Environment

Where: Ripley Center

When: through December 2, 2012

In addition to its International Gallery, the large space where big exhibits are held, the Ripley has two other exhibit spaces - the Concourse and the Corridor.  I'm calling these exhibit spaces in the loosest sense of the term, as they are basically hallways.  The Corridor is actually the hallway leading from the Concourse to the International Gallery and the Concourse is the large space at the bottom of the escalator from the Mall.

The Concourse is not the best place to see an exhibit, as it's so clearly not designed for displays.  It's distracting, as there are lots of doors leading off to various offices and a water fountain.  Nevertheless, I've seen some interesting things here, and this show on Inuit art continues that tradition.

It's divided into three sections; the first of which is "Culture on Cloth."  These are wall hanging created by women in an Inuit village west of Hudson Bay in Nunavut.  At one time, the Inuit lived in seasonal camps, following the caribou migration, but in the mid-20th century, due both to changes in migration patterns and population growth, the Inuit began to starve.  In response to this dire situation, the Canadian government set up permanent settlements for the Inuit, providing both health care and education.  These textiles demonstrate the transition from the old way of life to the new, and they've been on a migration of their own, having been on display in various locations since 2002.

I was reminded while I looked at these hangings of the exhibit I'd seen earlier this year (or was it last year?), by the woman who had survived World War II in Poland and then worked as a seamstress in New York, who documented her story of evading capture by the Nazis in needlework.  I'd not thought of sewing as a story-telling device before, but clearly it is.  These pieces are far more abstract than the ones I saw earlier, but the skill is apparent in both.  I particularly liked Tundra by Ruth Qaulluaryuk and Summer and Winter by Winnie Tatya; both of them feature lovely colors.

The second section is "Kinngait to Ulukhaktok: Artist as Cultural Historian."  It shows works of Inuit graphic artists, who are continuing the oral story-telling traditions of the past in their documentation of the transition from a migratory life to one of living in a settled community.

The third section is "Exploring the Eastern Inuit World."  The Maritime Far Northeast is one of the world's least-known geographic regions.  It comprises Maine, the Maritimes, Greenland and Nunavut.  Based on the pictures, it has a truly unforgiving climate.  It appears to be snowed in for much of the year, especially in the northern-most areas.  Of course, the climate is changing, so one wonders how much longer the snow will continue to fall in such abundance.  One can only hope that the Inuit can adapt once again to a changing environment.

Verdict: This is a very interesting show.  I found that it complemented the show on Arctic lives at the American Indian Museum very well, so if you can manage both shows in one day or close together, it's worth doing so. 

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