Archive for the 'Digital Exhibition Reviews' Category

Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970

Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970. An online exhibition of the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

Reviewed by Shannon Bagg

Commemorating 50 years of contemporary Inuit art production and coinciding with the inauguration of Nunavut, Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970 opened at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in April of 1999 and remained on display until February of the following year. Curated by Maria von Finckenstein and with James screenshot-copy.jpgHouston as a special advisor, the exhibition featured a total of 150 works from the institution’s collection, as well as from Houston’s private collection. The accompanying exhibition catalogue, more simply titled Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970, is based largely on artist interviews—both new and old—and focuses on the crucial social and economic roles that art plays in the lives of Inuit artists, with particular attention paid to the difficult transitional era of the 1950s and 1960s, when Inuit abandoned camp life and moved into settlements. An online version of the exhibition continues to be available on the museum’s website, although it fails to convey the strong curatorial message contained in the exhibition’s catalogue.[1]

To date, only a small number of exhibitions have dealt with the significance of financial motivation and its role in contemporary Inuit art, even though Inuit artists continually stress the importance of economic factors on their artistic production.[2] Von Finckenstein’s premise—as spelled out in the exhibition catalogue—is that first-generation Inuit artists, “…had no romantic notions about art –it was a way to survive….”[3] The author goes so far as to say that the act of projecting Western values onto Inuit artists is unjust and, ultimately, a disservice to them. She writes,

When Pauta Saila from Cape Dorset says, “I’ve been carving soapstone the whole time so my family won’t go hungry,” he says it with all the pride of the hunter who is successfully looking after his own. To expect him to carve with the wish to create, to fulfill, or “express himself,” would be ludicrous and disrespectful, disregarding his cultural roots and the environment that has shaped him. This does not of course suggest that Inuit from the first generation of professional artists did not express themselves in their art or enjoy the process, but their motivation was and is first and foremost commercial.[4]

Unfortunately, Von Finckenstein’s argument and, by extension, the underlining message of the original exhibition is, for the most part, absent from the online version. Instead, visitors to the website are presented with an accessible and user-friendly but nonetheless basic introduction to Inuit art and culture that includes maps, step-by-step demonstrations of carving and printmaking techniques, and information about cultural objects. Works featured in the exhibition are organized according to region and community or can be viewed individually accompanied by explanatory text. The most valuable component of the online exhibition is the “Artists” section in which artists’ statements are highlighted along with various black and white photographs of featured artists. It is here that visitors can gain a real sense of Inuit artists’ perspectives and the value that art holds in the North. As Inukjuak artist Paulosie Kasadluak states, “What we show in our carvings is the life we have lived in the past right up to today. We show the truth.”[5]

Perhaps the most problematic aspect of the exhibition is Houston’s collaboration on the project. A vital figure in the instigation and development of contemporary Inuit art, Houston is responsible for many of the misconceptions that form the basis of Inuit art history, including the contested role that economics plays. To look to Houston without somehow mitigating his authority through equal (if not greater) involvement by Inuit, subordinates the latter’s position in determining the value and meaning of the art. While Houston’s role as “special advisor,” the use of his collection, and his subsequent donation of several works to the museum are all touted on the website, his written contribution to the catalogue is not included online. Undoubtedly influenced by the exhibition’s concept, the perspectives expressed by Inuit artists, and the legitimacy offered by way of the museum’s authority, Houston’s essay recounts his first exposure to Inuit art, stressing how the potential economic benefit of art making was immediately apparent.[6] Although Houston attempts to tackle the subject of financial motivation head-on and—in keeping with the theme of the catalogue—acknowledge its significance, his reasoning is flawed and his argument seems forced. Houston writes,

Today some Inuit openly declare that they carve only for money. Unlike our more cautious Southern sculptors, painters, musicians, and performers, they are painfully truthful, eager to tell Arctic sociologists and anthropologists all about it. Most artists—unless they are like Degas, Manet, Munch, or Toulouse-Lautrec, who inherited wealth— work for some kind of necessary reward.[7]

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The Folklore of le Détroit/Le Folklore du Détroit

The Folklore of le Détroit/Le Folklore du Détroit. An online exhibition of the Virtual Museum of Canada.

Reviewed by Hilary Joy Virtanen

Online exhibitions provide unique advantages for curator and audience alike, including the creation of venues for materials and information ill-suited for physical presentation, the availability of the exhibition to a wider audience, and the potential for instant access to the materials. These three features are found in many of the online exhibitions that I have viewed, and all are well-illustrated in the bilingual exhibition The Folklore of Le Détroit / Le Folklore du Détroit.

This exhibition, presented through the Virtual Museum of Canada by the Windsor Public Library and Windsor’s Community Museum (Ontario), explores oral traditions of francophone communities along the Detroit River, a 30-mile ribbon of water between Ontario and Michigan that separates the cities of Windsor and Detroit. This isolated linguistic community, first established in 1701, has maintained and shaped many traditions, from both France and francophone regions in Canada. While the focus of the exhibition rests largely on Canadian communities, retaining a stronger French heritage due to historical circumstances, Michigan’s Detroit francophonie also provide rich examples.

The exhibition homepage identifies the target audience as schoolchildren around grade five. The exhibition and the lesson plan materials provided within, however, are aimed more widely toward primary and secondary students. The content is presented in both French and English, with separate sites for each. The design is largely geared toward children, with charming graphics and numerous clickable sound and animation files to illustrate the materials.

The French and English sites are nearly identical, and will be described here as one with sections noted by their English names. The opening page depicts a traditional village along the river. Using Macromedia FlashPlayer, clickable graphic icons lead into different portions of the exhibit, including a red house representing the “Introduction,” a pear tree for “Legends of le Détroit,” a chicken coop for “Folktales of le Détroit,” a school for lesson plans, a barn for feedback, and a church as the site map. Icons at the top of the screen lead to a site search engine, an interactive storytelling area, lesson plans, the credits, and the Virtual Museum of Canada.
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Dane-zaa Moose Hunt

Dane-zaa Moose Hunt: Hadaa ka naadzet. An online exhibition project of the Doig River First Nation with support from Canada’s Digital Collections Program (Industry Canada).

Reviewed by Patrick Moore

Over the last decade, the Doig River First Nation has sought to increase their capacity to represent their contemporary and historical cultural practices through the use of digital media and web-based exhibits. In this endeavor, the community has drawn on academic and professional resources, including the extensive documentation of Dane-zaa (Beaver) culture by anthropologist Robin Ridington dating back to the 1960s. In 2003, the Ridington family and the Doig River First Nation produced a digital archive containing over 1500 images, 600 hours of audio recordings, 60 hours of digital video recordings, as well as textual materials documenting Dane-zaa culture over a forty-year period. The Dane-zaa Moose Hunt exhibit is one product of the research being sponsored by the First Nation and is a precursor to a more ambitious exhibit on Dane-zaa stories and songs that the community is developing for the Virtual Museum of Canada. The exhibit was created by a team of young community members working in collaboration with Dane-zaa elders as well as folklorist Amber Ridington, anthropologist and videographer Kate Hennessy, and website design instructor Dan Arbeau.

The exhibit does not attempt to provide encyclopedic coverage of Dane-zaa practices and beliefs associated with the moose, but rather to provide a synoptic overview of selected topics relating to this theme. The site is organized according to five sub-themes relating to Dane-zaa culture and the moose hunt: Dane-zaa elders, hunting, meat processing, hide preparation, and Dreamers. Visitors to the exhibit are able to select the section that they are interested in and then choose textual materials, audio recordings or videos from each section. The sections on hunting, meat processing and hide processing include short videos of local elder Jack Askoty shooting and butchering a moose and of elders Margaret Attachie and Rosie Field preparing a moose hide. In the section on Dreamers, project members used Robin Ridington’s archival photos and audio recordings to inform exhibit visitors about the spiritual beliefs of Dane-zaa. In the past, Dane-zaa hunters were often directed to kill moose at locations identified by nááchę (‘dreamers’), spiritual leaders who are often called “prophets” in English, and the exhibit includes songs and oratory by the late nááchę Charlie Yahey that were recorded by Robin Ridington. The online resources are a valuable supplement to the published works on the Dane-zaa dreamers.

The exhibit will engage members of the general public who seek more information about contemporary First Nations cultures and indigenous use of resources and would be appropriate for use in university classes that study issues concerning the representation of indigenous cultures. Importantly, the exhibit reflects Dane-zaa approaches to education and cultural documentation. The videos of moose butchering and hide tanning include minimal narration, taking a learning-through-observation approach. Seeing a hunter sever the head of a moose might be disconcerting for some visitors to the exhibit, but such activities are an ordinary part of life for the Dane-zaa, for whom the respectful use of the animal is an essential responsibility.

The project reflects the priorities of the Doig River First Nation, including their desire to assert their cultural practices and rights in response to extensive oil and gas development in the region and their desire to provide opportunities for younger community members to learn from community elders while conducting cultural projects. The exhibit is a vivid reminder of the importance of moose as a lynchpin for Dane-zaa cultural practices, one that needs to be protected from environmental degradation. The respect of the young project members for the elders they worked with is evident throughout the exhibit and each of them contributed a moving profile of a community elder who had inspired them to the section on Elders. Much of the exhibit text is written in the first person plural, reflecting a community perspective, and is integrated with the more personal first person singular voices of youth and elders who worked on the project. The text retains the voice of the trainees even as they appropriate academic terms to make them their own, as when one young woman quotes her grandmother telling her, “Always keep in mind that you are a North American Indian, and be proud of it; Help each other and work as a team.”

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Museum Anthropology Review (MAR) is an open access journal whose purpose is the wide dissemination of articles, reviews, essays, obituaries and other content advancing the field of material culture and museum studies, broadly conceived. ISSN: 1938-5145