Circumpolar art exhibition opens at SAW Gallery in Ottawa

The exhibition features work by Indigenous artists from the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Norway

Works by Indigenous artists from circumpolar countries will be the first exhibition of a new project at the SAW Gallery in Ottawa.

Three women artists, from the Northwest Territories, Alaska and Norway, will present their work in Alakkaajut (A lot of things appear), the inaugural exhibition of the gallery’s new Nordic Lab, a research and production space for artists from circumpolar countries.

Founded in 1973, the SAW Gallery is a non-profit artists’ space dedicated to the presentation of contemporary art.

The result of a collaboration between SAW and the Canada Council for the Arts, the Nordic Lab is led by Taqralik Partridge, an Inuk artist, writer and curator.

Originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, Partridge has also lived in Nunavut and Norway and has worked extensively with Nordic artists from around the world.

“The idea is really to support artists over the long term and to work with [them] to promote them… we’re really interested in helping artists make new work and make new collaborations, ”Partridge said of the lab’s purpose.

The first collaboration resulted in Alakkaajut, a multi-artist exhibition focused on indigeneity in three circumpolar countries.

Artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs from Anchorage, Alaska has used found and salvaged fabrics for her installations that reference the impact of colonialism on intergenerational trauma and resilience.

“I think they already have a story in them,” Kelliher-Combs said of the materials – in Little floral secrets, old floral-print linens are fashioned into small hand carvings, while vintage scarves and handkerchiefs are kept in acrylic gel in A million tears.

“It’s an interesting metaphor that we wear physically [these items] with us, but emotionally, psychologically, we also carry with us some of these traumas and issues – you have to recognize them, deal with them, bring them to the fore [to] heal, ”she said.

Maureen Gruben, an Inuk artist from Tuktoyaktuk, Northwest Territories, also works with salvaged materials. His work, big hello, combines bead stems salvaged from worn moccasins and mukluks with thrifty iPhone cases. The work addresses the themes of family and connection.

big hello talking about reaching out to people, but in slow motion, ”Gruben said. “When you speak, it’s very slow, it’s not instantaneous… It takes time. “

Saami artist Sissel M. Bergh is originally from Trondheim, Norway, and weaves indigenous knowledge and traditions into his art, which mixes natural materials like tree cuts with man-made constructions like rubber and rubber tools. plastic.

“I work a lot to try to change the narrative of history,” Bergh said. His art attempts to subvert and reclaim accepted notions of truth in his native Norway – installation Siedi / Seid is inspired by how Indigenous Saami narratives are viewed or distorted in northern narratives of history.

“I look at this historical production as a spell – you make this kind of story… and it’s seen as the truth,” she said.

Partridge noted how the three artists share common themes throughout their work, despite the physical space that separates their place of origin.

“I think there is a strong sense of community and a sense of responsibility towards the community that artists from the North seem to have, [and] a sense of attachment to the land and a deep understanding of the importance of the environment, ”she said.

“I really hope people can see the connections that cross the Circumpolar North, even though it’s so difficult… to travel between these places because of the colonial borders.”

In addition to being a space for artists in residence, the Nordic Lab will organize educational programs aimed primarily at Indigenous youth. The lab’s Annie Pootoogook studio, named after the famous Inuit artist, will also include digital workstations, screen printing facilities and photographic printers that students and artists can access.

Partridge said the launch of the Nordic Lab came at a time when art and activism from circumpolar countries is receiving more attention than ever before.

“Our eyes are on the North now because of global warming, because of climate change. More and more people are going to look to the North and I think it’s really important to listen to what artists have been saying for a long time and will continue to be. [saying],” she said.

The Alakkaajut The exhibit will officially kick off on November 19 with a celebratory evening featuring food and musical performances and will run through March 5.

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