Qautamaat at the Guelph Art Gallery Review

By Justine Kraemer, GAC Volunteer Writer

The summer season is in full swing at the Art Gallery of Guelph. Qautamaat is a new featured exhibition, set to run throughout the summer months and beyond. Featuring items from the Art Gallery of Guelph’s collection, as well as Inuit art from Inuit creators, the exhibit is an expansive look at Inuit daily life. This multimedia exhibit has something for the entire family. 

Qautamaat translates to mean both “every day” and “everyday”. The entire exhibit is at how daily Inuit life has changed, and a meditiation on Inuit culture and values. It’s a fascinating exploration of how daily life for the Inuit people has changed over the generations. The scars of colonialism are clear. The devastation that colonialism continues to bring to Inuit communities is captured by so many of the creators whose work is featured here.

The exhibit is curated by Adjunct Curator Taqralik Partridge. Partridge is originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik and now resides in Ottawa after years of living and working in Kautokeino, Norway. Partridge’s work was recently on view as part of the Biennale of Sydney and Among All These Tundras. Partridge’s recent book of poetry, ‘Curved Against the Hull of a Peterhead’ was also published in 2020. 

One of the most striking examples of this is in the collection of short films, presented by Lindsay McIntyre. In this collection, various short videos that have been acquired through the Student Acquisition Program are shown that include clips of Inuit people discussing their lives.There’s a particularly powerful use of the song “Home on the Range” at one point, that leaves a lot open to interpretation. 

The sheer variety of pieces spotlighted in this exhibit is remarkable. The gorgeous tapestries and sketches depicting daily life and thoughts paint an overall picture of a community that pre-dates the Canadian state, and continues to thrive. The technology that the Inuit use is on full display through this artwork. It’s a direct rebuke to the racist stereotypes about the lack of technological advancement of Indigenous Peoples around the world. 

The traditional food and hunting practices of the Inuit are given a special emphasis. Seals, caribou, and whales, among the animals that have sustained the Inuit people through the generations. The depiction of hunters themselves is a reminder that hunting is an art in itself. It’s clear from the way the animals themselves are represented that the Inuit hunting practices are a far cry from the wasteful, unsustainable practices that are a mark of Western food acquisition.

Various works of art also depict the land itself. Igloos, a staple of Inuit living, are given a new perspective. The collection gives an appreciation for the process of the construction of igloos. Using various media, it’s a deeper way to engage with one of the popularly known aspects of Inuit culture. Without the filter of colonialism, the igloo can be appreciated in a new way through this art.

Another aspect of Inuit art on display in this exhibit is traditional beadwork. The use of colour and lines is gorgeous in every piece. The various uses of beads, from tapestries, other artwork, and clothing gives the viewer an appreciation for the talent required to bring beadwork to life. Such a skill is honed over a lifetime, and the results are evident throughout the exhibit.

This exhibit also contains an exploration of the various ways colonialism has left a scar on Inuit communities. ‘Rock’, a 1577 object, was brought to England by Martin Frobisher and was returned to Iqualuit in 2019. The canvas ‘White Liar and the Known Shore: Frobisher and the Queen is a striking portrait of a colonizer invading sovereign land. 

Finally, the entire exhibit features a reflection on the expansive geography of Inuit culture. The nuances of the physical land on which the Inuit people have lived for generations is captured by Inuit artists featured in this exhibit. Rather than endless amounts of snowy white, the vibrancy and colours that are integral to the Inuit experience are on full display. 

Qautamaat is an accessible, expansive exhibit that’s absolutely worth visiting at the Art Gallery of Guelph. The thought and care that has gone into curating these works is evident. In the end, Qautamaat is a tangible way to remind viewers that the Inuit culture continues to thrive, despite the efforts of racism and colonialism. This is a chance to appreciate Inuit artwork and the Inuit experience in a new way. 

Qautamaat is on display at the Art Gallery of Guelph until November 6, 2022.

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