Can art deepen a connection to one’s roots? Artist and curator Jocelyn Piirainen says yes.
Our major exhibition, Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak, highlights the creative legacy of these two artists while also marking some important firsts: it’s not only the first time Inuit art has been showcased in the museum’s largest gallery space, the Sam & Ayala Zacks Pavilion, but it’s also the first time an AGO exhibition has been co-curated by four Inuit artists.
Co-curator Jocelyn Piirainen describes herself as an urban Inuk, living and working in the South (Ottawa) as a curator, filmmaker and photographer. We spoke to Jocelyn about her experience organizing the exhibition, curating collaboratively and learning more Inuktitut.
AGO: How did your conceptions of Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak change over the course of putting the exhibition together?
Jocelyn: I had known of both artists’ work beforehand, but not the lives they lived. I didn’t realize how important hunting was to Tim, for example, but now I can see through his art the respect he had for the animals he hunted.
For an urban Inuk living in the South and rarely seeing the tundra, this project took on even more meaning. It meant exploring my roots and connecting the old traditions with a current frame of reference.
AGO: What did you learn from your co-curators?
Jocelyn: I learned more Inuktitut (since I’m not fluent) and also how to carve a seal. Being an urban Inuk, I hadn’t had the chance to experience hunting or had many opportunities to speak Inuktitut. I also really appreciated the different perspectives each curator brought to the project, which together shaped this exhibition in really interesting ways.
AGO: What inspired the exhibition’s title?
Jocelyn: Our curatorial team looked closely at the work of Kenojuak and Tim. We came to the consensus that the artists gave us an opportunity: to share their gifts of creativity, of imagination, of individuality. In Inuktitut, that is what tunirrusiangit roughly translates to: their gifts.
AGO: What other exhibitions have you worked on?
Jocelyn: The first exhibition I worked on was for the 2016 Asinabka Film & Media Arts Festival, held in Ottawa. The exhibition was called Neon NDN, it was a pop culture-themed show of Indigenous art and artists.
AGO: What’s your next project?
Jocelyn: Over the summer, I’m travelling to the East Coast of Canada, screening the films of Wapikoni Mobile, which features short films made by Indigenous youth. Keep an eye out for Cinema On Wheels!
AGO: What will you take with you from the Tunirrusiangit experience in your career as a curator?
Jocelyn: Many things – most of all the experience of working with a team of co-curators who are also artists. It’s a completely different dynamic, but one that worked really well.
Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak is free with General Admission, and runs until August 12.
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