WAG-Qaumajuq Announces Initiative That Reframes Historical Art Collection

The Artworks Renaming Initiative works with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to rename artworks that carry inappropriate titles

Winnipeg, Manitoba, Treaty 1 Territory and the Métis Nation Homeland, September 16, 2021: The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq is announcing a new initiative that furthers the Gallery’s continued work of incorporating Indigenous knowledge and perspectives into the fabric of the institution. The Artworks Renaming Initiative will see artworks in the WAG collection renamed through a process led by Indigenous Knowledge Keepers.

As with many historical art collections, there are works in the WAG-Qaumajuq permanent collection that have titles with words like “Indian”, “savage” or “eskimo”, which are inappropriate in today’s context. Through this initiative, 57 artworks, some belonging to the Government of Nunavut, were identified and researched to determine which Indigenous Nation is depicted. A representative from the identified Nation was then engaged to rename the selected artwork. Some Knowledge Keepers opted to rename the works in Ceremony. The Gallery is grateful to the Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers for their work on this project: Wanbdi Wakita, Pahan Pte San Win, Victor Tssessaze, Brett Huson and Martha Peet.

This project is part of the larger initiative to decolonize the WAG collection, which includes a repatriation policy, and regular Ceremonial care led by Indigenous Ceremonial Leaders.

Quick Facts:

  • The public is invited to attend a live presentation and panel talk about the project’s legacy for art institutions on Wednesday, September 22 at 7pm, at the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the WAG. WAG representatives Julia Lafreniere, Head of Indigenous Initiatives and Marie Anne Redhead, Project Coordinator, will give a presentation about the project, followed by a discussion with knowledge keeper Pahan Pte San Win and master’s Curatorial Studies student Katryna Barske. The event will also be streamed online on the WAG’s Facebook page.
  • WAG-Qaumajuq is home to 28,000 artworks, with close to 14,000 Indigenous works and nearly 7,400 pieces held in trust on loan from the Government of Nunavut.
  • Through this Renaming Initiative, 57 artworks have already been renamed.
  • We thank the following Indigenous Elders, Knowledge Keepers, and language keepers for their work with this project: Wanbdi Wakita, Pahan Pte San Win, Victor Tssessaze, Brett Huson and Martha Peet.
  • Prayer with Elders and Medicines is an ongoing occurrence for all the art we hold in our building to ensure the Spirit of the art is cared for in the right way.
  • The project is funded by the Manitoba Arts Council.

Quotes: 

“The Artworks Renaming Initiative has a significant impact on the canon of art history. While Indigenous art has long been a feature of Gallery spaces, Indigenous world views have not. By working with Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to rename these historical artworks, Indigenous knowledge has become a part of our permanent historical collection. We thank all of the Knowledge Keepers who shared their time in this important step toward decolonization.”

— Stephen Borys, Director & CEO, WAG-Qaumajuq

“This type of initiative has never been done before at a major art institution and I’m very proud that WAG-Qaumajuq has taken the bold move of addressing the issue of problematic titles by inviting Indigenous knowledge into the heart of the institution – our collection. My hope is that other art galleries in Canada will take note and follow suit. Too often in Canadian history we are unnamed or numbered, and it was a powerful moment to watch Indigenous relatives depicted in these artworks receive a proper name. Miigwech, Maarsii to all of the Knowledge Keepers for sharing with us, I am very grateful.

— Julia Lafreniere, Head of Indigenous Initiatives, WAG-Qaumajuq

“The WAG’s Collections & Exhibitions staff are particularly honoured and grateful for the time and space this project has allowed us! It has provided an opportunity to consider the many challenges and issues – but also potentials and possibilities – when it comes to re-thinking how we care for our collections, how we make those collections available, and for finding new ways to decolonize some of our institutional operations.”

— Riva Symko, Head of Collections and Exhibitions, WAG-Qaumajuq

Support 
WAG-Qaumajuq thanks the Manitoba Arts Council for their support.

Associated Links 
The Artworks Renaming Initiative
Collections

Stay Connected
Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram #atwag #qaumajuq365

 

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For more information or to arrange interviews, please contact:

Amy Rebecca Harrison
Engagement Supervisor
Winnipeg Art Gallery
204.789.1347
aharrison@wag.ca

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq 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. Opened in March 2021, Qaumajuq connects to the WAG on all levels, celebrating the largest public collection of contemporary Inuit art in the world. The new WAG-Qaumajuq cultural campus is now one of the largest art museums in Canada. To learn more visit wag.ca.

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