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WAG launches two new Indigenous exhibitions: subsist and ᐃ

Indigenous languages, cultures celebrated

Winnipeg, Manitoba, November 22, 2019: This month, the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) opens two new Indigenous shows curated by Jaimie Isaac, WAG Curator of Indigenous and Contemporary Art and Jocelyn Piirainen, WAG Assistant Curator of Inuit Art. They showcase groundbreaking art from contemporary Inuit and Indigenous artists in the year leading up to the opening of the WAG Inuit Art Centre in 2020.

subsist features Interdisciplinary work ranging from photography, drawings, sculpture, and installation to explore discussions surrounding the seal hunt, western globalization policies, and the economy.

In ᐃ, visitors will get reacquainted with a favourite from INSURGENCE/RESURGENCE, Joi Arcand’s neon syllabic installation and an additional light installation donated to the WAG from the artist, along with a selection of ceramic and soapstone sculptures stemming from an Anishininiwak-Inuit artistic exchange.

About subsist:
● On view until May 2020, subsist examines political, economic, and social systems of subsistence in individual and collective continuation of cultural practices of survival.
● The exhibition will reveal historical and contemporary impacts of colonialism on ecologies of land, and knowledge about the key factors of health for Indigenous peoples in Canada.
● Debuting at the WAG, Maureen Gruben’s Breathing Hole, an installation of 18,000 sealskin pins hand-fixed onto 40 squares of pale blue Dricore insulation bringing community together to complete the work over several months, at once the work echoes the landscape, subsistence lifestyle, and patience of seal hunting with the perseverance required for collective endeavours.
● Mark Igloliorte’s Seal Skin Neck Pillow utilizes the main material of his Inuit ancestors reimagined into a contemporary travel object, he refers to the detrimental international restrictions put in place by the 2010 European Union ban on the trade and exchange of seal products.
● From the WAG collection, Andrew Qappik’s stonecut Protest, presents two Inuit hunters questioning threats to their traditional practices and economy.
● Omalluq Oshutsiaq’s Store items I remember in the 1950’s drawing presents a reality of forced reliance on commodity based foods that are overpriced and unhealthy.
● Dana Claxton’s stark Buffalo Bone China video installation brings a halting view of history into perspective evoking John A. Macdonald’s government starvation policies and the decimation of the buffalo populations.

About ᐃ:
• ᐃ is a symbol in both Inuktitut and Anishininiwak syllabics translated as ‘I’ to embody self-determination and solidarity in collective reclamation.
• The connection between these cultures stems beyond language and syllabic, and is presented within sculpture. In 1968, a group of carvers from Garden Hill, Manitoba, The Ministic Sculpture Co-operative, travelled to Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to research Inuit stone carving and how the Arctic co-ops were organized.
• At this time, Rankin Inlet artists were exploring ceramics, having been recently introduced to clay through a federal government-run project inspired by Indigenous pottery from the south.
• The clay and stone sculptures in this exhibition display influences of each cultures’ established practice and methods in material and form.
• The United Nations officially deemed 2019 the International Year of Indigenous Languages, following the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, Article 13-14 and the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action; 13-17.
• Institutional spaces have a significant role and capacity to support the revitalization and transmission of all aspects of Indigenous cultures. This exhibition places language at the centre in dialogue with works from the WAG collection spanning many decades.


“In furthering our work of responding to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada’s Calls to Action, and honouring Indigenous languages as part of the fabric of multiculturalism in Canada, it is with great joy that we share these exhibitions with all of Winnipeg. As we draw closer to the opening of the Inuit Art Centre in 2020, the WAG is looking to present an increasing breadth of Inuit and Indigenous practices and voices.”
—Dr. Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, Winnipeg Art Gallery

“In reflection of the International Year of Indigenous Languages, ᐃ serves as a gesture to acknowledge the many Indigenous languages lost and still spoken, ᐃ places language at the centre through interdisciplinary creative expressions as well as explores the origins of the syllabic system. subsist addresses timely and historical discourse on social matters pertaining to the sealing industry, the precarious nature of ecosystems, health and traditional economies”.
—Jaimie Isaac, Curator of Indigenous & Contemporary Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery

“What I loved about collaborating on these two exhibitions was how everything came together, naturally and intuitively. With ᐃ, it was the discovery of the Ministic Sculpture Co-op’s travel to Rankin Inlet that brought together wonderful pieces of stone and ceramics. In subsist, I hope that audiences come to understand the long history that has been passed down from elders and ancestors that goes into providing for oneself and for family – from the meat of the caribou or seal to feed ourselves, to its skin that is then used to clothe.”
—Jocelyn Piirainen, Assistant Curator of Inuit Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Associated Links
subsist – Winnipeg Art Gallery
ᐃ – Winnipeg Art Gallery
WAG Inuit Art Centre

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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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