Winnipeg sits far from the territory of the Inuit. But the Winnipeg Art Gallery has long been the leading collector of their art.
Heather Igloliorte, an Inuk and associate professor of art history at Concordia University in Montreal, took a break from the last-minute preparations for the opening exhibition, on which she was one of curators, to speak with me. A researcher on circumpolar Indigenous arts, she was the co-leader of an Indigenous advisory circle that the gallery created early in the planning for the new center.
“Because it is in southern Canada, I didn’t want it to be just another place to show non-Inuit about Inuit art,” she told me. “I really hoped it would be a place where Inuit, Inuvialuit and global circumpolar Inuit would know that it was for them when they were inside. So they would see their language, things would be designed in such a way as to be inviting for Inuit.”
What visitors see as soon as they walk in is partly the result of Professor Igloliorte’s vision. Like most art galleries, Winnipeg has stored the overwhelming majority of its 14,000 Inuit works in storage, viewed only by curators and visiting scholars. The Qaumajuq center has brought the vault up into a three story high space, encased in glass and lined with artworks on shelves for all to see.
Michael Maltzan, an architect from Los Angeles, joined him in the north after he was commissioned to design the sculpted building which, on the outside, evokes an iceberg.