Landmark Inuit textile exhibit winds up in January

Mary Samuellie/Pudlat (1923-2001), Fish and Shadows (detail); Linen; screen printed; 88 X 118 cm (Dorset Fine Arts)

A landmark exhibit of textiles made by Inuit artists winds up next month after travelling the country and even nabbing a prestigious Governor’s General award.

“Looking back at our past accomplishments, provides Kinngait’s current community of Inuit artists with inspiration to continue this important visual arts legacy,” Pingwartok Ottokie, the president of the West Baffin Cooperative said. 

The historic textiles shown in the exhibit all came from the West Baffin Cooperative archives.

The cooperative is known for its print program established in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) the late 1950s that went on to produce world-renowned artists.

The coop’s textile program began in the 1960s and the works were well-received. They won awards in design competitions and were shown at Expo 67. But the acclaim didn’t transfer to sales and that, coupled with the cost and complication of getting materials to Kinngait, contributed to the decision to wind down the program in the late 60s.

Many of the artists and printmakers involved in the textile program include big names that went on to become internationally famous through the annual Cape Dorset print collection, including Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013), Pitseolak Ashoona (1904–1983), Parr (1893–1969), and Pudlo Pudlat (1916–1992).

Pudlo Pudlat (1916-1992), Spirits and Birds; linen; screen printed; L 340 cm x W 118 cm; On loan from the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative. ( Dorset Fine Arts)

Roxane Shaughnessy, a curator of printed textiles, was invited by the West Baffin Cooperative to look through their archives in 2016 and the idea of the exhibition was born. 

The exhibition opened in December 2019 at the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto, Ontario.

It ran until January 2022 before becoming a travelling exhibition and being shown in other parts of Canada.

In November, the Textile Museum of Canada and West Baffin Cooperative received the Governor General’s History Award for Excellence in Museums: History Alive!, that recognizes people or institutions that have contributed to a better understanding of Canadian history. 

The award is a partnership between the Canadian Museums Association and Canada’s History Society.

“We are pleased to be recognized with this prestigious honour, which celebrates an important part of Kinngait creative history,” Ottokie said. 

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Ottawa exhibition spotlights the art and artists of Nunavik, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Gwich’in-language short film explores connection with land in award-nominated series, Eye on the Arctic

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