Canadian exhibition showcases miniature carvings by Inuit artists

Birds by Sabina Qunqnirq Anaittuq (1941-c. – 1997) from the community of Kugaaruk in Canada’s eastern Arctic. The ivory and bone carving is believed to have been done around 1969. (Winnipeg Art Gallery)
Large carvings are amongst the most iconic works produced by Inuit artists, but a new Canadian exhibition is casting a spotlight on lesser-known, miniature carvings and how they too can be appreciated as an art form.

Small Worlds: Inuit Miniature Carving, opened on July 20 at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) in the western Canadian province of Manitoba.

The exhibition features 100 miniature carvings, mostly created between 1950 and 1970, from 19 communities across Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut.

Jocelyn Piirainen, the WAG’s assistant curator of Inuit Art, in the Small Worlds exhibit. (Courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery)

“While looking through this collection, I noticed the large amount of both miniature and small carvings, and knew that these would be great to showcase in contrast to some of the larger carvings on display in the other galleries,” said Jocelyn Piirainen, assistant curator of Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, in a news release.

“Many of these miniatures also reflect the everyday busyness of Inuit including that of men hunting seals, fish or whales – or of women scraping sealskins or tending to the qulliq (oil lamp). These scenes then create small worlds where stone and bone become the landscape, and the stories and livelihood of Inuit are told by these miniature carvings.”

‘Size of the carvings magnifies their power’

The works came from the Government of Nunavut Fine Arts Collection and are on long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery. 

“Piirainen’s first WAG exhibition highlights pieces from the Government of Nunavut’s collection in intriguing dioramas for all to enjoy,” said Stephen Borys, the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s director and CEO.  “Art is a voice and in Small Worlds, the size of the carvings magnifies their power.”

The exhibit runs until the end of 2020.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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