Canadian exhibition showcases cutting-edge Indigenous art from around the globe, including Arctic

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Two works by the Edmonton-born, Yukon-based Kaska Dene artist Joseph Tisiga featured at the Àbadakone art exhibition in Ottawa, Canada. In the middle, a 2016 installation view at gallery Diaz Contemporary of “An Exercise in Resilience 1, 2, and 3,” surrounded by “The Game is Not a Game,” where the words ‘The game can not be won’ have been put on old residential school blueprints. (Toni Hafkenscheid/Diaz Contemporary/National Gallery of Canada)
A major art exhibit is underway in Canada featuring contemporary works by some 70 Indigenous artists, several of them from the Arctic.

Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel is being put on by the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa and features more than 100 works produced by artists from approximately 40 Indigenous Nations and 16 different countries. (Àbadakone comes from the Algonquin language and translates as “continuous fire.”)

The exhibit was curated by Rachelle Dickenson, associate curator; Greg A. Hill, Audain senior curator; and Christine Lalonde, associate curator, from the Indigenous art department of the National Gallery of Canada. Consulting curators included Candice Hopkins, Ariel Smith and Carla Taunton, along with other Canadian and international advisers.

The exhibit was built around three core ideas: continuity, relatedness and activation.

“One of the aspects of contemporary Indigenous art that’s really notable is the way they don’t break with the past,” says curator Christine Lalonde. “They bring the past forward,”

“Bird Bones,” a 2015, black felt pen work on wove paper by Shuvinai Ashoona, is featured at the Àbadakone art exhibition. (Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts/National Gallery of Canada)

Canadian artists featured in the exhibition include contemporary art superstars like Shuvinai Ashoona from Cape Dorset in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut, an artist famous for her fantastical, and sometimes abstract drawings done in mediums like ink and coloured pencils.

But the exhibition also includes artists from other regions of Canada’s North like Maureen Gruben, based in the Inuit community of Tuktoyaktuk in the Northwest Territories, whose work Seal in our Blood — a 20-foot long rope of alternating seal skin and red velvet that hangs from the ceiling and pools onto the floor in a coil — opens the show. 

“Her work is very minimalist,” says Christine Lalonde. “By going with a very minimalist aesthetic, her work actually speaks volumes about [the emotional and spiritual ties that people have to the land an the animals]  that are sometimes hard to communicate to outsiders.”

Feature Interview with art curator Christine Lalonde
In this special Eye on the Arctic feature interview, Christine Lalonde, one of the Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel, curators at the National Gallery of Canada, talks us through the works of Maureen Gruben (Canada), Brian Adams (Alaska) and Evgeniy Salinder (Siberia), and why their unique projects were chosen for the exhibition:

Besides installations, video and sculpture, Àbadakone also features photography, including a project by Brian Adams, who comes from the Iñupiac village of Kivalina in Alaska. His photography project involved travelling to Iñupiac villages in the state and co-creating the images with his subjects. 

“Marie Rexford 2015. ” Inkjet print. From the series “I am Inuit” by Alaskan artist Brian Adams. (Courtesy Brian Adams/National Gallery of Canada)

“He was looking for more a collaborative relationship with the person that was going to be portrayed, letting them choose how they wanted to be represented but also incorporating their story and their voice, ” says Lalonde.

Other arctic artists featured in the exhibition range from Evgeniy Salinder, a Nenets carver from Salekhard, Siberia, to Fredrik Prost, a Saami artist from Viikusjarvi, Sweden.

Àbadakone | Continuous Fire | Feu continuel runs until April 5, 2020.

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Exhibition to showcase Inuit art from Atlantic Canada, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi-themed Finnish short film makes Sundance lineup, Yle News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson lights up London’s Tate Modern, Blog by Mia bennett

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Arctic culture heritage sites get protection, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway team up to preserve ancient rock carvings, Radio Sweden

United States: Set of Indigenous Yup’ik masks reunited in Alaska after more than a century, CBC News

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a 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 violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

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

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."

Twitter: @Arctic_EQ

Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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