IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts Exhibition Akunnittinni Travels to the Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of the American Indian in New York

Napachie Pootoogook (Inuit) 1938-2002
Nascopie Reef-1989 Lithograph 17″x 19″
Courtesy Edward J. Guarino Collection

Published June 23, 2017

SANTA FE – When Andrea R. Hanley (Navajo), exhibition curator and membership and program manager at the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, NM put together the exhibition Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait in late 2015, she knew that it was something special, but had no idea that it would continue to have a life after the exhibition at MoCNA closed in December 2017.

Loosely translated, the Inuktitut word Akunnittinni means “between us.” This exhibition chronicles a visual dialogue between an Inuk grandmother, mother, and daughter – Pitseolak Ashoona (1904-1983), Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002), and Annie Pootoogook (1969-2016). Their artworks provide a personal and cultural history of three generations of Inuit women whose art practices included autobiographic narratives and have chronicled intimate and sometimes harsh memories and historically resonant moments. The prints and drawings in the exhibition also include sardonic references to pop culture that now infuses everyday life in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), as well as nuanced depictions of family and village life. Kinngait is a remote Arctic community located on Dorset Island near Foxe Peninsula at the southern tip of Baffin Island in the Qikiqtaaluk Region of Nunavut, Canada. The region is known internationally for their artwork, produced in places like the now famous Kinngait Studios (West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative) since the 1940s. Pitseolak Ashoona, Napachie Pootoogook, and Annie Pootoogook are among the most well-regarded artists from this region.

The works in the exhibition were on loan to the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts from Edward J. Guarino, a retired public-school teacher from Yonkers, New York. Guarino is an author, educator, lecturer, and collector specializing in Native American and Inuit Art.  He writes a monthly column on Native art and culture for the King Galleries of Scottsdale website. His work has also appeared in Native Peoples magazine. Art from his collection has been exhibited at the Brooklyn Museum, the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Arts, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, the Art Gallery of Alberta and the Loeb Art Center, Vassar College. Affectionately known as the Herb Vogel of contemporary Native art, he has collected more than 1,000 Native American paintings, drawings, and ceramic works, with an emphasis on Inuit art.

Other works have been loaned by Dorset Fine Arts, the marketing division of West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, located in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Dorset Fine Arts was established in 1978. Located in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, the co-operative is unique among the Arctic Co-operatives for its focus on the arts and artists of the community. The Annual Graphics Collection from Cape Dorset has been released annually since 1959 and the Co-operative also represents many acclaimed sculptors and drawing artists. The distinctive work produced in this region – particularly in stone cut and lithography – are produced in the Kinngait Studios, which is the oldest art print shop in Canada. Dorset Fine Arts was created to develop and serve the market for Inuit fine art produced by the artist members of the Co-operative. Sales and exhibitions of prints, drawings and sculptures are made through the Dorset Fine Arts showroom in Toronto to galleries around the world.

Hanley’s Exhibition “Akunnittinni: A Kinngait Family Portrait” (featuring 18 total works, six from each artist), opened Saturday, June 10, at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, George Gustav Heye Center in New York. The exhibition runs through Jan. 8, 2018.

“To me this exhibition serves as a reflection on the role of narrative between three generations of indigenous women-all from one family-which started in 1904 and ended in 2016 with the passing of Annie Pootoogook,” said Hanley. “I was drawn to this very strong family voice within a tribal context. Coming from a matriarchal tribe myself, I feel this exhibition accurately represents contemporary indigenous feminist discourse.”

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