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Qaumajuq in the Paallirmiutut dialect means, “light (it gives off)”

Qaumajuq in the Paallirmiutut dialect means, “light (it gives off)” – by Dr. Norma Dunning

What is light? How does it work? Is it only Mr. Edison who invented it? He gave us unseen waves that fall into a bulb and we needed him to do that. But light arrives in many forms. In the form of streaks through our windows that allow us to watch dust particles dance with one another. Light arrives with each morning that the sun brushes herself against every piece of the earth and welcomes us into a brand-new day. Light arrives in science and physical forms and we each have an expectation that the light switch will make a room flood into brightness and the sun will give us warmth, even on our coldest winter days.

It is one thing to have light given to us in physical, yet magical forms, but it is quite another to be the form that gives off light. Light is not always the element that allows us to see, an element that is riddled in science. Light is also that person or thing that makes us see sharper, clearer, differently, and better. Giving off light is the beauty of artists.

Giving off light is the imagination of a person who works in ink or carves in soapstone or the writer watching the cursor blink, asking for light to become a written form. Giving off light is the end result of an artists’ long and hard work. Work that is romanticized and thought of as something that takes little to no time at all.

I’ve never understood how most readers and appreciators of art forms do not see the work that lies inside an image that gives off light but perhaps that is not their role. Their role is to see the cracks and crevices of beauty, the absolute wonderment that those who give off light bring into the world with all their originality. The world of the artist is like the one who keeps the qulliq (the traditional Inuit lamp) glowing through seasons of storm and calm. The one who gives off the light when needed most in a world that can be so very turbulent, especially now when COVID has required us to stay away from each other.
In the midst of a pandemic, Inuit do the unthinkable and open a space to the Givers of Light, the Inuit artists who reshape and reform and resurrect our minds with images that are soothing or make us smile in contentment and a sense of assurance that all is right in the world because the Givers of Light are still with us and still making art that takes us away to better places. Places of hope. Places of calm. Places of light.

Welcome to the Givers of Light. Welcome to Inuit artists. Welcome to Qaumajuq.


Dr. Norma Dunning is an Inuit writer, researcher, grandmother, and scholar with the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Education – Educational Policy Studies Department.


2 thoughts on "Qaumajuq in the Paallirmiutut dialect means, “light (it gives off)”"

Brenda says:

When are the qaumajuq lights on? Is there a schedule? Haven’t seen them on for sometime…. I can see the museum building from my apartment balcony.
Thank you

Winnipeg Art Gallery says:

Hi Brenda, the lights were on in celebration of the opening of Qaumajuq (late March). However, we don’t currently have a light display on right now, although there may be a few special occasions, and we may bring this back when the sun begins to set earlier! Thanks so much for your support!

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