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Rarely seen Inuit art revealed by Winnipeg Art Gallery for first time in a generation
Darlene Coward Wight, WAG Curator of Inuit art highlights Hunter in Kayak, by Bernadette Iguptark Tongelik (Repulse Bay) a small ivory carving from the Government of Nunavut art collection. Photo by David Lipnowski.

WINNIPEG.- The world got a first glimpse today at rare and valuable Inuit art – some that has been in storage for decades – as the Winnipeg Art Gallery began opening the 300 crates, holding nearly 8,000 Inuit treasures that the Nunavut Government has entrusted with the WAG for a long-term loan.

Six high-security shipments carrying the priceless cargo travelled more than 6,000 kilometres from Yellowknife, Iqaluit, Peterborough, and Toronto to Winnipeg with the final truckload arriving last week. The Government of Nunavut has loaned the artwork to the WAG for five years so the public can experience it before a heritage centre is built for the art collection in Nunavut.

As the first pieces were uncrated this week the WAG staff were reminded how extraordinary the collection is and the rare opportunity they have to showcase these artworks in the south.

“Today our curatorial team had another amazing moment when we opened a spectacular Serpentinite stone sculpture of a mother and child by renowned Cape Dorset artist Kiugak Ashoona,” said Dr. Stephen Borys, WAG Director & CEO.

The unique partnership between the WAG and the Governments of Nunavut and Manitoba will allow the world to see the collection that very few people – even the Inuit themselves – have seen. A selection of the prints, drawings, carvings, ceramics, and textiles will be displayed at the WAG beginning this spring when the Gallery exhibits works alongside the WAG’s own world-renowned collection.

Over the five-year period, the WAG and its Inuit Art Centre, slated to open before the collection returns to Nunavut, will mount exclusive shows of the artwork. They will also be looking into touring parts of the collection across Canada, including Nunavut, as well as in Europe.

“This stunning collection broadly showcases Inuit art and culture, and complements the WAG’s collection,” said Dr. Stephen Borys, WAG Director & CEO. “We are always looking for ways to celebrate this Indigenous art form with the thousands of people who visit the Gallery each year. It will also be wonderful to provide an opportunity for scholars and researchers to see and study the collection. We are grateful to the Governments of Nunavut and Manitoba for making this historic loan possible.”

Showcasing the Nunavut collection at the WAG expands the foundation for collaboration with the North, including art and museum residencies, education programming, the exhibition and promotion of Inuit art, and shared economic development and tourism. The goal is to build a permanent link between North and South and between the WAG’s Inuit Art Centre and Nunavut’s Heritage Centre.

“I am very pleased that the Government of Nunavut’s fine arts collection will finally be on display, after so many years in storage,” said Acting Minister of Culture and Heritage Johnny Mike. “The thousands of people who visit the WAG annually will shortly be able to appreciate our world-class art collection, comprised of artwork by past and present Nunavut artists.”

The partnership contributes to the WAG’s Inuit Art Centre initiative by augmenting the WAG’s collection, the largest of its kind in the world, with historic objects as well as modern and contemporary works, and by collaborating with Inuit Elders, leaders, artists, scholars, and youth. The Inuit Art Centre will be a bridge, enabling people from the North and South to meet, learn, and create together.

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