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Inuit Miniature Carvings on View in New Exhibit – Jocelyn Piirainen curates Small Worlds for her first show at WAG

Winnipeg, Manitoba, July 23, 2019: Small Worlds: Inuit Miniature Carving, Jocelyn Piirainen’s first exhibition in her new role as Assistant Curator of Inuit Art, opened this past weekend at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG).

On view until winter 2020, Small Worlds brings together more than 100 miniature carvings by Inuit artists from 19 communities across Nunavut. Most of the works were created between 1950 and 1970 and drawn from the Government of Nunavut Fine Arts Collection, on long-term loan to the WAG. The exhibition adds momentum as the 2020 opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre approaches.

Piirainen’s position is generously supported by the Canada Council for the Arts via the Creating, Knowing and Sharing: The Arts and Cultures of First Nations, Inuit and Métis Peoples program. The WAG Assistant Curator of Inuit Art is the first such position in Canada to be led by an Inuk.

About the Exhibition:

  • Historically, miniatures would be created to trade for necessities and other items, or to be sold at a Hudson’s Bay Company post or Inuit-owned co-operative. In other instances, miniature carvings of animals were created to bring good fortune to hunters.
  • What distinguishes miniatures from larger Inuit sculpture is the distinct sense of intimacy that their scale affords. Modest in size, these carvings nonetheless symbolically embody entire worlds of belief and ways of life.
  • Inuit sculpture comes in many materials, shapes, and sizes, reflecting the resources available to the carvers in their communities or through trade.
  • In some instances, the natural shape and form of a piece of stone, bone, or ivory help to determine the content and theme of the sculpture itself, along with the artist’s own agile intuition. Each piece shows evidence of a steady hand, a great amount of patience, and results in intricate detailing that could only be achieved with an intense precision.
  • Visitors will be amazed by the intricate details, expression, and movement artists are able to achieve on such a small scale and also have the opportunity to interact with the art up close by viewing images on digital tablets.


In the lead-up to the opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre in 2020, we are thrilled to work with Inuit curators to produce shows that reflect the diversity of form and subject matter throughout Inuit art. Piirainen’s first WAG exhibition highlights pieces from the Government of Nunavut’s collection in intriguing dioramas for all to enjoy. Art is a voice and in Small Worlds, the size of the carvings magnifies their power.
—Dr. Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, Winnipeg Art Gallery

While looking through this collection, I noticed the large amount of both miniature and small carvings, and knew that these would be great to showcase in contrast to some of the larger carvings on display in the other galleries. Many of these miniatures also reflect the everyday busyness of Inuit including that of men hunting seals, fish or whales – or of women scraping sealskins or tending to the qulliq (oil lamp). These scenes then create small worlds where stone and bone become the landscape, and the stories and livelihood of Inuit are told by these miniature carvings.
—Jocelyn Piirainen, Assistant Curator of Inuit Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Associated Links

Winnipeg Art Gallery – Small Worlds Inuit Miniature Carving

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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Amy Rebecca Harrison
Engagement Supervisor
Winnipeg Art Gallery

Amber O’Reilly
Engagement Officer
Winnipeg Art Gallery

The Winnipeg Art Gallery is a cultural advocate using art to connect, inspire, and inform. Playing a dynamic role in the community, we are a place for learning, dialogue, and enjoyment through art. The WAG holds in trust the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art on earth. To celebrate the art and to honour the Inuit, the WAG is building the Inuit Art Centre, the first of its kind in the world. Opening in 2020, the Centre will bridge Canada’s North and South through exhibitions, research, education, and art making. To learn more visit


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