Thursday, April 4, 2013

Inuit Art at the Dennos Museum Center

The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak
One of the reasons I was so keen to visit the Dennos Museum Center was the Inuit Gallery and expansive collection of Inuit art that is housed at the Dennos.The Inuit art collection at the Dennos includes over 1,000 items including "prints, sculptures, drawings, tools, textiles, and animal specimens" primarily from the 1950s onwards.  I was intrigued by how Inuit art and culture would be displayed outside of Canada.

Despite my initial intrigue, the Inuit Gallery was probably my least  favourite gallery space at the Dennos.  During my visit the majority of the works shown were prints made from stone cuts and small stone carvings.  The works themselves were interesting and I did learn a bit about the stone cut print making from the exhibit.

However, I found this gallery space lacked vibrancy and context.  Many of the text panels looked at Inuit culture through a lens of anthropology and scholarship.  The entrance to the Inuit Gallery is flanked by two taxidermy animals, contributing to the space's overall reinforcement of stereotypes about Canada's North and Inuit people.

The space did not incorporate panels which were representative of the Inuit people themselves and highlighted their own views.  It also would have been nice to see some context about Inuit people in Canada more generally about Nunavut itself.  The gallery space did include one framed map that showed Canada's North, but there was no context accompanying the map. Overall, I felt as though Canada's North and Inuit culture was painted with a broad brush in this gallery without much attention to current political, social, and cultural movements.

To be fair, the Dennos is far from the only cultural institution that has displayed Indigenous history or material culture without context or from a Euro-centric perspective.  Jon Weier's recent Active History post, "Strangely ahistoric sensibilities at the American Museum of Natural History." did an excellent job of looking at the outdated exhibition practices of American Museum of Natural History.  Cultural institutions of all sizes need to look closely at their display practices of Indigenous culture and consider the implications of outdated, one sided presentations of history.

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