by Joe Talirunili presented by Galerie Elca London
Galerie Elca London
1444 Sherbrooke Street West, #100
Montreal, Quebec
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Nunavik: The Early Years
Joe Talirunili
June 20 - Jul 19, 2017

    While the Inuit had been producing small scale sculptural objects for  thousands of years, the sale or trade of  their creations was  exceedingly rare until after the Second World War.  Toronto artist James  Houston (1921-2005) hitched a plane ride to the  remote community of  Inukjuak in 1948 and brought back a number of  sculptures which he  presented to the Canadian Handicrafts Guild. Armed  with an acquisition  budget of $1,100.00, Houston returned to the arctic  in 1949 and amassed  a collection of works which would be featured in the  Guild's first  ever exhibition of Inuit art later that year. This  premier exhibition  of Inuit art in Southern Canada was a great success  and marked the  beginning of a remarkable international love affair with the art of the   North which has endured for almost 70 years.

The first pieces which came down from the arctic in the late 1940's and  early 1950's hailed from the East coast of Hudson Bay. While Houston's  first contact was in Inukjuak, he also visited neighbouring communities  such as Povungnituk and Salluit. Houston worked with the Inuit in these  remote settlements to produce a range of work to satisfy the growing  hunger for Inuit art in Southern Canada. While the Inuit had  traditionally used softer and lighter materials such as antler, walrus  ivory, and whalebone which were better suited to their nomadic  lifestyle, the transition to a more sedentary lifestyle and access to  better tools allowed the Inuit to express themselves using local  supplies of carving stone. The earliest examples tend to focus on the  daily life of the Inuit. Arctic wildlife and dailyactivities such as fishing, the hunt for marine mammals and the use of their skins join tender depictions of maternal scenes.

While  one might expect that this first foray into the creation of larger  stone pieces to be rudimentary and blockish, the reality is that many of  these early pieces have an elegance of line and execution. I am  personally very fond of the pieces produced in the early 1950's where  the carvers were experimenting with the use of inlay. A variety of  materials including bone, antler, and limestone were used to fashion  faces which were then set into stone bodies. A highlight of this  exhibition is the stunning sculpture of a woman returning from a  successful fishing trip. Her beautiful face, carved from walrus ivory,  features stunning scrimshawed detail including the tradition Inuit  facial tattoos common in the period (which, interestingly, are now  making a comeback in the North).

In the latter half of the  1950's, again assisted by Houston, the Inuit began producing works of  graphic art. While these first efforts were produced in Cape Dorset,  where Houston was living at the time, there was an experimental  collection in Povungnituk in 1961 with a fully catalogued collection  commencing in 1962.

This exhibition is an informal survey of  pieces produced during the first 25 years of artistic production in  Nunavik. While there are examples of works by some of the most famous  Inuit artists such as Akeeaktashook, Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, & Joe  Talirunili it is important to point out that some of the best early  pieces are anonymous or by artists who had glorious but short lived  careers marked by just a few astonishing pieces.

Please enjoy my tribute to these amazing artists and their early work.

Joe Talirunili
Return Of The Survivors From The Floating Ice, 1965
16 x 19.75 in.  Stonecut/Gravure sur pierre
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