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Art meets theatre meets the country

June 13th, 2017

INUIT, INUKJUAK. Hunter Killing Bear, before 1959. Mottled dark green‑grey stone, darkened, ivory. 28 x 16 x 38 cm (11 x 6 5/16 x 14 15/16 in.). Collection Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto. Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick, Toronto, 2001.

The weather is warm and the road is calling! This is the season for getting out of the city and travelling to some picturesque towns in Ontario to see what they have to offer. Stratford, Ontario is a popular destination for its theatre festival, but there’s another reason to make the trip there this summer.

To support the new Stratford Festival play The Breathing Hole by Colleen Murphy, which follows a polar bear throughout Canadian history from first contact with colonial settlers to the global warming issues of today, the Stratford Perth Museum presents Nanuk’s Journey (“nanuk” meaning “polar bear” in Inuktitut), an exhibition of Inuit sculptures on loan from the Esther and Samuel Sarick Collection at the AGO. It was curated by Andrew Hunter, Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, at the Art Gallery of Ontario, in consultation with Inuvialuit Reneltta Arluk (Gwich’in and Chipewyan-Cree, as well as the director of The Breathing Hole). Featuring artists like George Pitsiulak, Andy Miki, and Bill Nasogaluak, Nanuk’s Journey is on now and continues until September 23, 2017.

We spoke with Andrew about how Nanuk’s Journey came together.

AGO: How did this partnership between the AGO and the Stratford Perth Museum occur?

Andrew: This idea was originally suggested by Esther Sarick, a long-time supporter of the AGO who has also been a great friend of the Stratford Festival. Samuel and Esther Sarick donated the foundation of the AGO’s Inuit collection, and Esther suggested that it would be great to feature selected works at the museum to complement The Breathing Hole.

AGO: And just how does Nanuk’s Journey complement the play The Breathing Hole?

Andrew: The exhibition features representations of polar bears by a diversity of Inuit artists, echoing the focus on the spirit bear in The Breathing Hole. As with The Breathing Hole, there is a journey over time explored through the works in Nanuk’s Journey, as visitors can experience both the development of Inuit sculpture since the 1960s and see how different artists have presented the polar bear as both as spirit and as a central figure in everyday life.

AGO: Inuit sculptures also take up major real estate along the halls of Walker Court at the AGO. Why do you think more people should pay attention to Inuit art?

Andrew: We have been positioning Indigenous art as central to the AGO experience, particularly in the Canadian department. The installation in Walker Court (as part of Look:Forward, our major reinstallation project) puts the work of Inuit artists in the historic heart of the Gallery, and is complemented by a number of other locations throughout the AGO where visitors can see Inuit work in focus and in dialogue with Indigenous and Contemporary art.

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