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Receiving ‘their gifts’

July 13th, 2018

Curator Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory inside Tunirrusiangit

Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory inside Tunirrusiangit, Image by the AGO.

Tunirrusiangit means “the gifts they gave” in Inuktitut, and AGO visitors are invited to enjoy the gifts of Kenojuak Ashevak and her nephew Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak with the exhibition Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak. This major retrospective on now in the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion is the first time an AGO exhibition has been co-curated by four Inuit artists.

We’ve told you how the exhibition helped connect co-curator Jocelyn Piirainen to her roots and how meaningful it was for co-curator Koomuatuk (Kuzy) Curley to work with a team of Inuit from the North and the South. This week we’re speaking with co-curator Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, an artist and spoken word poet, on how shaping this exhibition deepened her connection to Ashevak and Pitsiulak.

AGO: What was your relationship to Tim Pitsiulak’s work before you started working on Tunirrusiangit?
Laakkuluk: I never got the chance to meet Tim when he was alive, but I knew his work. His identity as a hunter and an artist is one that is so familiar to me. My father told me many stories of his Nunavummiut Inuit friends who could not leave for a day of hunting without writing poetry first.

I had a wonderful time with Miali Pitsiulak (Tim’s wife) at the opening of Tunirrusiangit as we carved the seal meat for everyone to enjoy. She took my ulu (a woman’s knife) home as a memento. I hope to get an ulu from Kinngait from her.

AGO: How has your relationship with Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak evolved over organizing Tunirrusiangit?
Laakkuluk: I have a deeper appreciation of how daring they both were and yet so humble. Both of them charmed art lovers from around the world, with babies on their backs and their family surrounding them, screaming with delight at fish coming up from holes in the ice, with their favourite hockey team’s ball caps on, as they dealt with international art markets and acclaim. Both of them were so meticulous, precise and unabashed about the art they made.

AGO: What has been a standout memory from the exhibition for you?
Laakkuluk: The opening of the exhibition and the sharing of the seal meat. To work together with a group of proud, skilled Inuit to prepare an entire seal, to celebrate the wholeness of the animal, to savour the taste and to relish sharing it with hundreds of people who eagerly watched and held space with us was an incredible experience.

AGO: How do you foresee the Tunirrusiangit experience influencing your future work? Your performances? Your promotion of Inuit art and culture?
Laakkuluk: I am so incredibly lucky to be surrounded by strong, identity driven artists and challenging art. Tunirrusiangit is an embodiment of the strength that I will always carry with me. I see the streams of light flowing back and forth in Kenojuak’s drawing taking shape in my movements. I see the love of intricacy in Tim’s work moving into technicalities in my own work. I felt the broad and tangible support we received as Inuit curators from the Art Gallery of Ontario and the surrounding communities of Toronto and the ripple effect we all created – it is only going to grow.

Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak is free with General Admission, and runs until August 12. See it today!

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