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From Kinngait to Korea: 90 Inuit works of art feature in South Korean exhibition

Nunatsiaq News| April 06, 2023

Categories: news

ARTS AND CULTURE  APR 6, 2023 – 12:47 PM EDT

From Kinngait to Korea: 90 Inuit works of art feature in South Korean exhibition

Dozens of Kinngait artists part of 14th Gwangju Biennale art show in South Korea

Drawings and sculptures by dozens of Kinngait artists are set to be featured at a large-scale art exhibit in South Korea. “Once a Myth, Becoming Legend” will highlight the importance of contemporary Inuit art in Canada, said co-curator William Huffman. (Photo courtesy of Cheryl Rondeau)

By Madalyn Howitt

The work of dozens of Kinngait artists will soon be on display at an exhibition nearly 9,000 kilometres from the Nunavut hamlet.

Once a Myth, Becoming Real is set to be the largest exhibition of Canadian art in South Korea and the first major exhibition of Inuit art in the country, according to co-curator William Huffman.

The show will spotlight 90 drawings and sculptures by 32 new and established Kinngait artists, as part of the 14th Gwangju Biennale in the city of Gwangju, South Korea, a large-scale international art show featuring works from the country and from nine other nations including Canada.

“We immediately understood the opportunity for our [Kinngait] artists and their work, since this is the first exhibition of its kind in the Republic of Korea and one of the largest survey exhibitions of Inuit art ever produced,” Huffman said.

He planned the exhibition alongside Sun Lee of the LeeKangHa Art Museum.

It might seem odd that Canada, as the second-largest land mass on the planet, would be represented at the Gwangju Biennale by an Arctic community of only 1,400 inhabitants, Huffman said.

But Inuit art has been “a de facto national identity for decades and literally from its beginnings in the 1950s was a global diplomatic currency for the Government of Canada,” he said.

The exhibition also coincides with two overlapping anniversaries — roughly six decades of the Kinngait Studios, the longest continuously running print studio in Canada, and the 60th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Canada and South Korea.

“The work of Kinngait artists brings a truly unique and incomparable quality to the event,” Huffman said.

More than 90 works by 32 contemporary and established Kinngait artists will be on display at the 14th Gwangju Biennale art show in Gwangju, South Korea from April 7 through July 9. (Photo courtesy of William Huffman)

Most of the artists, such as Saimaiyu Akesuk, Quvianaqtuk Pudlat, Ooloosie Saila, are of the current generation of Kinngait printmakers, illustrators and sculptors, with many of the works produced in 2022.

One standout exception, though, is Kenojuak Ashevak, arguably “the grande dame of Inuit art,” Huffman said.

Visitors to the exhibit will be welcomed by a large reproduction of her sealskin print Rabbit Eating Seaweed, and one of her serpentinite carving, Bear, will be featured in the show, Huffman said.

Another standout is Shuvinai Ashoona, whose monochromatic and surrealist abstract drawings from the late 1990s will be on display.

“The artists in this exhibition represent a selection that includes emergent creative voices alongside their more established peers,” Huffman said.

“From a high level, the exhibition is intended to create a moment in which we can tell the story of one small Arctic community.”

The show is meant to be a way for international audiences to discover the unique Inuit art of Kinngait, and also serve as an example of how “cultural expression can transcend language as a powerful unifier,” he said.

“You start to see how an emerging artist is influenced by their more senior peer, or you start to understand the importance of the studio as a catalyst for 63 years of art production in Kinngait,” Huffman said.

“Each work speaks to the other, and collectively the show is a remarkable narrative that is uniquely Kinngait.”

Once a Myth, Becoming Real will open at the 14th Gwangju Biennale on April 7 and run until July 9.

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