‘Great culture in Labrador’

Bonnie Learning
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Labrador art professor aims to get Labrador Inuit art more exposure

Dr. Heather Igloliorte chats with Gavin Edmunds after presenting information on her research into Labrador Inuit art at the North West River Interpretation Centre on Aug. 26.

Listening to Dr. Heather Igloliorte speak, it is clear she is very passionate about Labrador.

The Happy Valley-Goose Bay woman — an assistant professor of Aboriginal art history at Concordia University in Montreal — was back in her hometown this week, in a series of visits to central and coastal Labrador to promote awareness — and share her research — of Labrador Inuit art and artists.

Being of Inuit descent on her father’s side and an accomplished artist in her own right, Igloliorte said Labrador Inuit art has not been given the recognition or credit it deserves for far too long.

Igloliorte gave a presentation on that subject at the Labrador Interpretation Centre in North West River on Aug. 26.

“We should make more (art), it would be good for our communities,” she said.

“It fosters cultural pride and carries on our traditions. We would be better off if more people knew about the great culture we have in Labrador.”

Igloliorte is doing her best to do just that.

She recently completed a 487-page dissertation which speaks to the first art history of the Nunatsiavummiut (Labrador Inuit), focusing on over 400 years of post-contact production, Nunatsiavummi Sananguagusigisimajangit /Nunatsiavut Art History: Continuity, Resilience, and Transformation in Inuit Art (2013).

She is also currently working with the Nunatsiavut Territory to bring the arts and culture of the Nunatsiavummiut to light through several ongoing and multiplatform collaborative community-based projects. One of these is projects, the creation of a large scale touring exhibition of Nunatsiavut contemporary art, is being coordinated through the SSHRC Partnership Grant Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage: a multi-media/multi-platform re-engagement of voice in visual art and performance (2013 - 2017).

Artist concerns

One of the biggest pieces of research she conducted for her study was interviewing approximately 60 Inuit artists from all over Labrador in 2011.

“I wanted to get a sense of what artists wanted to see happen and issues they wanted addressed,” said Igloliorte.

She said many artists shared similar concerns.

"They feel the quality of items they produce is limited because of the tourist art market, and they would be more willing to take on more ambitious projects to the best of their abilities, if the opportunity (to sell it) was there." 

Igloliorte said the highest productivity for artists are during the fall and spring, as most people are very busy during the summer with other activities, including hunting fishing and travelling, so there are times when the local craft shops sell out.

"It can be hard for artists to produve in high quantities in the summer, because they are so busy," she said.

She added other concerns for artists included lack of access to proper tools, raw materials, and an “intimidating” process when it comes to applying for grants.

“Currently, provincial arts organizations have no specific grants or awards aimed at Aboriginal people, unlike most others, and neither does Nunatsiavut,” said Igloliorte.

“Artists in Nunatsiavut have rarely accessed federal or provincial funding for the arts.”

She also noted one of the main problems with the study of contemporary Inuit art, is that it is focused on “western or southern art forms,” such as stone sculptures, print making, or drawing.

“Stone sculptures is just one of many art forms we have in Labrador,” she said. “We don’t have much print making or drawing produced by Labrador Inuit.”

Igloliorte believes it is imperative that traditional Labrador crafts — such as sealskin mitt making, caribou tufting, and grass works — be recognized as art in its own right.

“I wish the idea of ‘Inuit art’ would broaden to include other art forms,” she noted.

She added Labrador Inuit art has almost been nearly excluded from every major art exhibition in Canada, with a few exceptions.

“The National Art Gallery in Ottawa has two pieces of Labrador Inuit sculptures — one piece purchased from Mike Massie in 2006, and one piece from Billy Gauthier in 2013.

Igloliorte said a major exhibition focused entirely on Labrador Inuit art is long overdue.

“The last one was over 30 years ago and featured Labrador grass work; it went across Canada and into the United States — it was very successful.”

Igloliorte is travelling throughout Labrador for the next week or so to meet with various artists.

She noted since she first gave her presentation earlier this year, she has been successful in getting some grant applications approved.

“I am going to start planning public consultations to see what Labrador artists want to see happen.”



Organizations: Concordia University, Labrador Interpretation Centre, Cultural Heritage National Art Gallery

Geographic location: Labrador, Happy Valley, Goose Bay Montreal North West River Canada Ottawa United States

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