“Tunirrusiangit” means “their gifts” in Inuktitut – and starting this week Toronto is invited to enjoy the gifts of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak in the AGO’s retrospective on these two formidable artists.
Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak: Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak marks some important milestones: It’s the first exhibition from the AGO’s new Indigenous and Canadian Art department; the first time Inuit art will be showcased in the museum’s largest gallery space, the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion; and the first major museum retrospective for Pitsiulak.
Yesterday, we gave media a sneak peek at the exhibition that includes over 100 works on paper from the artists’ careers, including their unique portrayals of contemporary Inuit life and the people, activities, histories, animals and landscapes that are central to it.
The exhibition’s four co-curators – Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Koomuatuk Curley, Taqralik Partridge, and Jocelyn Piirainen – guided media on an intimate tour of the exhibition, pointing out some of their favourite works – like Kenojuak Ashevak’s The Woman Who Lives in the Sun (1960) for Laakkuluk, Luminous Char (2008) and Nunavut – Our Land (1992) for Taqralik, Bountiful Bird (1986) for Jocelyn, and Pitsiulak’s Grazing Musk Ox (2013-2014) for Koomuatuk.
“Our team came to a collective realization: these two artists were encouraging us to think about and reflect on our selves, our pasts, and our futures, as well as challenging our ideas about who they were and what they achieved,” Jocelyn said. “We have gratefully accepted their gifts, and have pushed through the challenges to bring their work and their perspectives to Southern audiences.”
Speaking to the enduring legacies of these two artists, the curators, who are also working artists, explored the meaning of their own artistic responses to the careers of Ashevak and Pitsiulak. The curators each created artworks for the exhibition which are on display alongside the works that inspired them.
According to She Does the City, Laakkuluk’s project Silaup Putunga – “sila” meaning “intellect,” “mind,” “weather,” or “atmosphere” and “putuq” meaning “hole” or “portal” in Inuktitut – is”a wonderful metaphor for the entire show: it is a portal to contemporary Inuit life as understood through exceptional Inuit artists.”
As the first exhibition from the new Department of Indigenous and Canadian Art, the curatorial team’s leadership on Tunirrusiangit marks an important step in the AGO’s commitment in leading important conversations about how to better reflect the Nation-to-Nation relationship that underlines the treaty relationship that allowed Canada to come into existence. And it also flows from the AGO’s devotion to showing the very best art.
“With Tunirrusiangit, we have sought to facilitate the connection of contemporary Inuit voices with the work of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak, so that the values of traditional knowledge as they are practised in Inuit Nunangat (Inuit homelands in Canada) might take root here in downtown Toronto,” said Georgiana Uhlyarik, the Fredrik S. Eaton Curator, Canadian Art, AGO. “Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Koomuatuk Curley, Taqralik Partridge, and Jocelyn Piirainen have curated a selection of drawings, prints, and audiovisual projects that embody and express Inuit ways of being in the world.”
AGO Members can get a preview of Tunirrusiangit on June 13-15, before the exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, June 16. The AGO is also holding a free public opening celebration on Wednesday, June 13 from 6 pm to 9 pm – where members of the public are welcome to see the exhibition, and participate in an honoured Inuit custom of sharing a communal meal of seal meat – harvested by a community member of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), the home of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak.
“For Inuit, to share seal meat is to honour family and community. As Inuit curators, we wanted to honour Qinnuajuaq (Kenojuak) and Timootee’s spirits and brilliance by doing what happens on kitchen floors, igloo floors, rocky shorelines and sea ice now and since time immemorial – by eating seal meat. For us this is a symbol of unity and peace,” Laakkuluk said.
Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak runs until August 12 in the Sam and Ayala Zacks Pavilion.
Access to the exhibition is free with General Admission.
Are you an AGOinsider yet? If not, sign up to have stories like these delivered straight to your inbox every week.