Winnipeg Art Gallery unveils monumental ‘Gift’ from Inuit artist

Titled Tuniigusiia/The Gift, Ashoona’s multi-faceted sculpture reflects knowledge transfer through education and storytelling, and the important role teachers play in our communities. (Ron Boileau/Radio-Canada)
As of last Thursday visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery and its Qaumajuq Inuit art centre are greeted by a large stone sculpture by Inuit artist Goota Ashoona.

Carved out of a giant boulder of Verde Guatemala marble, the sculpture is a celebration of the light of knowledge, both traditional Inuit and scientific.

The artwork was commissioned by the Manitoba Teachers’ Society “to honour teachers all around us—in the land and in our lives—who reveal the truth, wisdom and beauty that connect us all.”

Ashoona, whose father and grandfather were also well-known Inuit artists, has named her creation Tuniigusiia, which translates from Inuktitut as “The Gift”. The sculpture symbolizes the gift of knowledge transfer through formal education, but also through storytelling.

“It’s Inuit art and it’s very big Inuit art,” Ashoona said in a video about the sculpture released by the WAG. “I believed in my work just as I believed in myself. It’s the only way to be proud.”

The sculpture also acts as a symbolic gatekeeper into the world of Inuit art contained in the 40,000-square-foot museum that is expected to open later this year, as soon as pandemic restrictions are lifted.

Meaning “it is bright, it is lit” in Inuktitut, Qaumajuq (pronounced as KOW-ma-yourq or HOW-ma-yourk) is billed as “the first art museum of its kind, bringing Inuit voices to the forefront, and dedicated to the art and culture of Inuit from Canada and beyond.” Its collection boasts 14,000 pieces of artwork by Inuit artists.

Designed by Michael Maltzan Architecture with Cibinel Architecture, the new museum connects to the WAG on all four levels.

“A beacon that both emanates and attracts light, Qaumajuq will celebrate the artistry and acknowledge the history of Inuit and First Peoples,” James Bedford, president of The Manitoba Teachers’ Society, said in a statement.

“And it will teach us, as all good teachers do, to challenge conventional wisdom and privileged perceptions to find truth, connection, and value in our shared humanity.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Project to digitize works from Inuit artists gets further grant from Canadian Heritage, 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

Levon Sevunts, Radio Canada International

Born and raised in Armenia, Levon started his journalistic career in 1990, covering wars and civil strife in the Caucasus and Central Asia. In 1992, after the government in Armenia shut down the TV program he was working for, Levon immigrated to Canada. He learned English and eventually went back to journalism, working first in print and then in broadcasting. Levon’s journalistic assignments have taken him from the High Arctic to Sahara and the killing fields of Darfur, from the streets of Montreal to the snow-capped mountaintops of Hindu Kush in Afghanistan. He says, “But best of all, I’ve been privileged to tell the stories of hundreds of people who’ve generously opened up their homes, refugee tents and their hearts to me.”

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