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Inuit Women's Art Exhibit at the Pequot Museum

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MASHANTUCKET, Conn. - The Pequot Museum will feature an exhibition of
prints and sculpture by Inuit women artists through Sept. 6. Isumavut: The
Artistic Expression of Nine Cape Dorset Women includes 91 works - prints,
drawings, acrylic paintings, jewelry and sculpture - created between 1959
and 1992 that focus on the evolving role of women in Inuit culture and the
development of each artist's style. Isumavut is a traveling exhibition
produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Works in the exhibit are by the late Pitseolak Ashoona and the late Lucy
Qinnuayuak who, with Kenojuak Ashevak, established the reputation of art
from Cape Dorset. Works in the same tradition by Mayoreak Ashoona, Qaunak
Mikkigak, Oopik Pitsiulak, Napachie Pootoogook, Pitaloosie and Ovilu
Tunnillie complete the exhibition.

Maria von Finckenstein, curator of Contemporary Inuit Art for the Canadian
Museum of Civilization talked to Indian Country Today about the exhibition.
She pointed out that the Inuit were a nomadic hunter society until the
1960s, thus the period covered in Isumavut shows a transformation from the
end of the Inuit's traditional life and art to their settlement in the
modern world, where Western artistic concepts and images began to appear in
the indigenous art.

"Cape Dorset is the largest art community among the Inuit," von
Finckenstein said. "These nine women, who all come from the same community,
reflect their culture in transition. Until World War II they basically
lived as nomads, so all of these women, at least until their twenties, are
from a nomadic/hunting society. They have never gone to an art academy, nor
had they ever visited a museum - It's very hard for us to imagine that. The
oldest of these artists was in her late-adult life when she moved to Cape
Dorset and started drawing, while the youngest was born in 1949, and was
probably in her teens when she moved there. They've all been deeply
inspired by the nomadic camp life, and they have had to adjust to modern
life settlements. The arts, drawing and carving, were a way they could make
a living in a cash economy, which they had obviously not been prepared

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Many of the traditional pieces show images of traveling by dog sled,
crossing rivers, and the artic wildlife, especially birds. "Their art is
very much a cultural expression," von Finckenstein said. "They also draw
from oral history, the old stories that have been passed down for
centuries, which was the only way that knowledge was preserved. The Inuit
were practically a non-literate culture. They knew how to read in their own
language, but the only thing they would have to read is the bible; the
missionaries taught them how to read and write."

The evolution of Inuit is just as influenced by Western art technology as
it is in subject matter. "The early imagery is very stylized and is mostly
line drawings. These women printed most of these prints. It's drawn and
Cape Dorset has a co-op that buys up these drawings, then there is a group
of printmakers who translate these drawings into prints. Since wood was not
easy to come by, they turned to the next obvious printing surface, stone.
The image gets transferred to the stone and you end up with a very
stylized, simplified image. The images of the youngest artist out of the
group, Mayoreak Ashoona, are already in lithography; they are often drawn
directly onto the litho stone by the artist. They are much more elaborate,
detailed, and realistic; they include overlapping and shadowing, attempting
Western illusionism. It goes from highly stylized, simplified images to
more complex, realistic images.

"In terms of the sculpture, there is a similar progression, from animals
and more traditional subjects to more personal subject matter. For example
Ovilu Tunnillie was sent to a sanatorium for tuberculosis when she was a
child. Her piece, 'This Has Touched My Life,' shows the nurses and you
sense the fear as seen through a child's eyes. There's also cultural
commentary; one sculpture shows a nude woman in high heels. This is
obviously something the artist has seen on television or on a visit to
Canada South; it has nothing to do with her traditional culture."

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