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Indigenous Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery

Curatorial appointments support Inuit Art Centre

David Ruben Piqtoukun Airplane, 1995 Brazilian soapstone, African wonderstone 26 x 36.5 x 27.5 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, G-97-17 abc © Ernest Mayer
Julie Nagam. Photo courtesy of Winnipeg Art Gallery.
Julie Nagam. Photo courtesy of Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is Canada’s oldest civic art gallery and home to over 27,000 works spanning centuries and media, including the world’s largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art. Amassed over the last 60 years, this amazing Inuit collection of over 13,000 carvings, drawings, prints, textiles, and new media is matched by an outstanding record of 160 exhibitions and 60 publications.

To celebrate the art, culture, and land of the Inuit, and to honour the people who have created these works, the WAG is building an Inuit Art Centre, the first of its kind in the world. Situated next to the existing WAG building, the Inuit Art Centre will foster awareness, appreciation, and understanding of Indigenous art and culture.

Visitors will experience Canada’s Arctic through exhibitions, programs, research, education, and partnerships with Inuit artists and arts organizations in the North. The Centre will be a bridge, enabling people from northern and southern communities to meet, learn, and work together. It will also act as a cultural hub promoting economic development and tourism.

The creation and ongoing evolution of the Centre is predicated on strong partnerships. It has been informed and shaped by stakeholders in Manitoba, Nunavut, across the North, and throughout Canada, and will continue to be guided by a representative circle of advisors. It is a collective endeavour that underscores our commitment to the North and its people.

As planning continues for the Inuit Art Centre, the Gallery is expanding related programming. In 2015, the WAG’s curatorial team grew with two new specialists: Dr. Julie Nagam and Jaimie Isaac.

“Both positions support the WAG’s Indigenous art mandate, contributing towards the Inuit Art Centre initiative,” states Dr. Stephen Borys, WAG Director and CEO.

“There is a growing trend of global recognition of the innovative and dynamic contribution Indigenous artists, curators, and scholars have to offer, and I would like to continue to be at the forefront of this artistic and curatorial renaissance,” comments Dr. Nagam in a Winnipeg Free Press article. Nagam serves as the Chair in History of Indigenous Arts in North America, a joint appointment with the University of Winnipeg.

Robert Houle Premises for Self Rule: Treaty No. 1, 1994 acrylic, photo emulsion, vinyl lettering on canvas, Plexiglas 152 x 304 x 5 cm Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, G-96-11 abc

Nagam’s portfolio includes research and teaching in the History Department at UWinnipeg and curatorial and exhibition work at the WAG. The first of its kind in Canada, the position is made possible in part with the support of Michael Nesbitt, Chairman and President of Montrose Mortgage Corporation, and philanthropist, who continues to champion contemporary art across the country.

Nagam is responsible for cutting edge research, and developing courses, exhibitions, and programs designed to advance the area of Indigenous art both at the University and the Gallery. “This is an important first for Winnipeg and for Canada — and the WAG is proud to be spearheading this international, gamechanging initiative,” says Borys.

Jaimie Isaac joins the WAG as the Curatorial Resident of Indigenous and Contemporary Art through a two-year program funded by the Canada Council for the Arts.

“The WAG has an important history with regards to Indigenous arts in Canada,” comments Isaac in a Winnipeg Free Press interview. “A big part of the residency is to engage and collaborate with Indigenous communities to create exhibitions that are meaningful, relevant, and dynamic.”

Isaac’s work includes developing exhibitions and programs in partnership with local and national Indigenous organizations; and acquiring contemporary Indigenous art for the WAG, thereby raising the profile of artists locally and beyond.

Isaac’s first project and exhibition at the WAG, We Are On Treaty Land, gathers interdisciplinary art by Indigenous artists from the Gallery’s permanent collection. On view until May 22, these paintings, prints, and photographs span the past 40 years, providing reflections influenced and informed by Treaty No. 1 Territory and treaty relations.

“Jaimie Isaac’s work will inspire dialogue in our community to educate, critique, and celebrate the complexities of the Canadian identity, Indigenous culture, and issues that motivate art production today,” states Borys.

To learn more about the Inuit Art Centre, Nagam and Isaac’s work, and current WAG exhibitions, visit wag.ca.

Submitted by the Winnipeg Art Gallery