The Art Gallery of Guelph (AGG) is recognized internationally for its unique collection of Inuit drawings (1960 to present) and for its role in researching, publishing, and exhibiting Inuit art. Over 1,000 works on paper, as well as wall hangings and rare stone prints, represent Canadian Arctic communities including Baker Lake, Cape Dorset, and Holman.
Exhibitions developed from the collection have toured across Canada, to the United States, and internationally, including:
Qamanittuaq (Where the River Widens) is the first major survey exhibition of Baker Lake drawings, representing 35 years of drawing history in this community. The visually compelling drawings illustrate the highly individualistic approaches of the Inuit artists and the rich heritage of shamanistic and traditional spirit imagery from which they draw their inspiration. The exhibition is accompanied by an illustrated book containing essays on the history of the art programs in Baker Lake, the distinctive characteristics of Inuit drawings, the 1994 Baker Lake Art Symposium (that coincided with the opening of the exhibition tour), and a memoir by artist William Noah. Extensive catalogue notes are based on interviews with the artists. Qamanittuaq (Where the River Widens) is co-curated by Judith Nasby, William Noah, and Chair of Art and Art History at Wayne State University (Detroit) Marion Jackson.
Qamanittuaq: Drawings by Baker Lake Artists is a discrete exhibition of 13 drawings by many distinguished Inuit artists, including first-generation artist Jessie Oonark and the distinctive drawings of four of her children: Janet Kigusiuq, Victoria Mamnguqsualuk, Nancy Pukingrnak, and William Noah. The traditional drawings of Luke Anguhadluq, Marion Tuu’luq, and Harold Qarliksaq depict animals and hunting activities. The expressive works by artists Ruth Annaqtuusi, Françoise Oklaga, and Irene Avaalaaqiaq portray spirits and powerful transformation subjects. Many aspects of contemporary Inuit and southern Canadian culture are combined in the drawings of Simone Tookoome, Myra Kukiiyaut, and Joan Arngna’naaq. Qamanittuaq: Drawings by Baker Lake Artists is inclusive of a wide variety of works by important Inuit artists from different generations, reflecting both historical and contemporary elements of the culture.
The solo exhibition, Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality, features one of Canada’s most prominent Inuit artists and a leading member of the prolific artistic community of Baker Lake. Irene Avaalaaqiaq is recognized as a creator of distinctive drawings, prints, and sculpture, although she is best known for her remarkable wall hangings, which reveal a rich heritage of spirit and shamanistic imagery. In 1999, Avaalaaqiaq was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Guelph for her contribution to the development of Inuit art and for her leadership role in Baker Lake. The accompanying publication Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality was written by Judith Nasby and published by McGill-Queen’s University Press (2002).
Contemporary Canadian Inuit Drawings / Chinese Drawings from Huxian, Jinshan, and Qijiang draws together 50 works on paper by Inuit artists from Canada’s Arctic communities and by Chinese artists from Huxian, Jinshan, and Qijiang, selected from the MSAC collection. The exhibition explores the extraordinary points of intersection and divergence in these art works, created by artists who live in vastly different nations yet share a visual language to express overwhelming cultural change.
The Inuit drawings were created by artists from the regions of Baker Lake and Cape Dorset. Many of the artists depict spirit imagery and transformation subjects. Although Christianity is the prevalent religion in the Arctic today, traditional beliefs remain a dominant influence among the artists. Until the middle of the twentieth century, the Inuit were nomadic. Since then, they have undergone a rapid adaptation to modern technological society and its effect on their culture.
The Chinese artists represented in this exhibition come from Huxian County near Xian, home of the terracotta warriors in Shanxi province; from Jinshan County near Shanghai; and from Qijiang County, which is part of Chongqing, the capital of Sichuan province. These artists work collectively to create remarkable images of traditional agricultural life in China. The brilliantly coloured Huxian and Jinshan gouache paintings and the multiple hued Qijiang woodcuts document China as it shifts from a centuries-old agrarian society toward technological modernity.