Category Archives: WInnipeg Art Gallery

Butterflies in Nunavut?

Chasing Butterflies by Mary Yuusipik Singaqti

I was preparing to give a tour of the Mary Yuusipik exhibit that just opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  The exhibit includes twenty-six drawings that show what artist Mary Yuusipik’s life was like growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in the interior Back River area of Nunavut. I was reading about each of Mary’s drawings and studying them and when I came to this one called Chasing Butterflies I said to myself, “Butterflies in Nunavut? Wouldn’t it be way too cold for butterflies there?” Turns out according to this beautiful and interesting book by Carolyn Mallory The Common Insects of Nunavut there are eight kinds of butterflies and moths in Nunavut  including the Brush Footed Butterfly, the Gossamer Winged Butterfly and the White and Sulphur Butterfly. 

Brush Footed Butterfly- photo by Carolyn Mallory

Carolyn includes traditional stories she heard from people about the various insects in her book. Several older women in Baker Lake told Carolyn that if you placed a butterfly on newborn girls they would grow up to make beautiful designs on the things they sewed. 

Untitled wall hanging by Mary Yuusipik -2013

Looking at a gorgeous wall hanging like this one which is part of the current Mary Yuusipik exhibit  one might speculate that Mary herself may have had a butterfly alight on her as a newborn. 

Other posts……….

Stitching a Story

Cut in Stone

Transferring the Real to the Unreal

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Inuksuk or Inunnguaq?

inukshukI’ve recently discovered that although the fabulous 1989 sculpture on the rooftop of the Winnipeg Art Gallery by Manasie Akpaliapik is called Inuksuk it really isn’t one.  It is in fact a inunnguaq.  What’s the difference? 

inukshuks on Foxe Peninsula

Inukshuks on Foxe Peninsula- Baffin Island- photo by Ansgar Walk

According to the Canadian Encyclopedia inuksuks which have been found at sites that date from as long ago as 2400 BC, were formations of rocks used by people across the Arctic as markers for all kinds of purposes- navigational routes, good kayak landing spots, good hunting and fishing sites, locations of celebrations and caches of meat. These markers could be in many different formations. 

Inunnguaq on the other hand were shaped like human beings and could venerate a person, mark a spot for people to meet, or have spiritual significance. 


Flag of Nunavut

An article in the Toronto Globe and Mail discusses the use of the inuksuk or inukshuk on the flag of the Nunavut Territory and the way the inunnguaq was used as a symbol for the Canadian Olympics in 2010 but mistakenly called an inuksuk.  Some people think inukshuks and inunnguaqs are important Inuit cultural symbols and should not be used for decoration or marketing. What do you think?

Tourists from around the world are building impromptu inukshuks all over the place in Canada’s national parks and conservation officers are removing them because they alter the natural landscape. Are the officers doing the right thing? 

I’ve learned there are inunnguaqs mistakenly called inukshuks all over the world.  


An “inukshuk” but really a inunnguaq in Hiroshima Japan donated by a variety of Canadian groups as a landmark for peace.


A Inunnguaq labeled as an inuksuk in the Canadian Embassy in Washington DC

Other posts……….

Build Your Own

Making Wishes in Sedona

Getting Nostalgic and Just a Little Sad

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What Is It?

I am getting ready to do an Inuit tour at the Winnipeg Art Gallery for a group of alumni from an American University.  I plan to show them some of the Inuit artifacts we have at the gallery and connect them to some artwork we have had on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in the past. 


Item: Bird Hunting Weapon (bolo)

Material: sinew and bone

UseThis weapon is thrown at flying birds. The weighted cords spin and open wide to entangle the bird.

In this print by Elisapee Ishulutaq you can see bird hunters capturing prey. 

Item: Jigger

Material: antlers, braided sinew, nail

Use:ice fishing

In this wall hanging by Martha Kakee we see Inuit fishermen at work.

Item: ulu- a woman’s knife

Material: steel and antler

Use: skinning and cleaning animals, cutting hair, cutting food, cutting sinew for sewingIn this pen and colored pencil drawing by Tabea Murphy you can see the ulu on the table of the kamik maker. 

Item: Item: snow goggles

Material: antler and caribou sinew

Use: protect eyes from sun and snow glare

If you look closely you can see a person wearing snow goggles in this Brazilian soapstone sculpture by Abraham Ruben called Spirits of the Great Hunt.

Item: toy sled (qamutiik)

Material: antler, wood, string

Use: Children made toy sleds that were exact replicas of real sleds in order to practice the skill of sled building

You can see a qamutiik (sled) outside the door of the sealskin tent in this section of a mural by Elisapee Ishulutaq.In this pen and ink work called Sacrilege Jason Shiwak critiques colonialism and Christianity.  The man with the qamutiik (sled)  is trapped between a Christian missionary and a shaman transforming into a raven. 

I still need to find connecting artworks to a number of other artifacts to prepare for the tour.  Perhaps I will share them in a future post. 

Other posts……….

Inuit Art Isn’t Just Soapstone Carvings

Inuit Games

Looking Cool the Inuit Way


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Two Paintings- Two Stories

the death of murat

This painting was done in 1793 by artist Jacques-Louis David.  It depicts the murder of Jean Paul Marat a leader of the French Revolution. The dead man is in the bathtub because he suffered from a terrible skin condition which was soothed by soaking in water. He is holding a letter in his hand.  The last name of the artist David is inscribed on the wooden block.

In this artwork part of the current The 80s Image exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery the artist David Buchan who died of AIDS in 1993 has photographed himself.  Notice the similarities between his work and that of Jacques Louis David above. Both have the name of the artist on a block, one of wood the other of marble.  Both men are dead. The one above was murdered. The one below committed suicide.  Both men are in a tub. 90% of AIDS patients suffer from skin conditions as the revolutionary Marat did. The letter in Marat’s hand above has been replaced with bank statements in Buchan’s hand below- perhaps alluding to the high cost of medication to treat AIDS.  Notice the dark humour of contrasting the word Halo which usually refers to something divine to the container of Halo shampoo.  Do you notice how the letter O in the word Halo looks like a halo? 

Halo is a fitting addition to The 80s Image exhibit because activism surrounding AIDS began in the 1980s with many different groups and organizations emerging to advocate for people with HIV in North America. They lobbied for treatment, prevention and raising awareness.

On November 13 at the Books and Brushes session at the WAG I’ll be looking at the connection between this painting and the book Tell The Wolves I’m Home.  Why not join us?  You can learn more here. 

Other posts…………

 She Hates Her Job

Aliens and the 80s

A Great Exhibit and a Great Book


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A Great Exhibit – A Great Book- And a Great Coincidence

The next novel in the Books and Brushes series at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is Tell the Wolves I’m Home by Carol Rifka Brunt.  Our book club meets on November 13 at 11:30. I am leading the session this time and the book that’s been chosen is a perfect fit with our current exhibit The 80s Image.  I have just finished Tell the Wolves I’m Home and already have lots of ideas for ways to connect it with the art on display.  

220px-Tell_The_Wolves_I'm_Home_cover_pageTell the Wolves I’m Home takes place in 1987. Fourteen year old June Elbus has just lost the person she loved most in the world her uncle Finn Weiss who was a famous artist.  Finn died of AIDS something that people don’t really want to talk about in 1987.  

Tell the Wolves I’m Home is filled with intriguing cultural connections.  The musical South Pacific plays a role, as does The Cloisters art museum in New York, the Middle Ages and its literature and art and……….. Mozart’s Requiem.  LestWeForgetPosterv2And by happy coincidence the Winnipeg Philharmonic Choir is performing Mozart’s Requiem at the St. Boniface Cathedral on November 11 just two days before the Books and Brushes session on November 13. You can learn more about that performance here. 

AIDS by the art collective General Idea- 1988

So you can go and hear the requiem and then come to the WAG to see pieces in our 80s Images exhibit and talk about the role the art as well as Mozart’s music played in Tell the Wolves I’m Home.

You can register for Books and Brushes here.   Our Books and Brushes program at the Winnipeg Art Gallery is a joint venture with McNally Robinson.  You can buy the book at their Grant Park Store.  Hope to see you on November 13. 


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Aliens and the 80s

douglas curranWhat’s going on here?  When I did my first stroll through the new exhibit The 80s Image at the Winnipeg Art Gallery this week I was drawn to this strange photo. It shows a young man named John Shepherd in 1982. He has converted his grandparents’ home in Michigan into a UFO detecting station. All the equipment you see is stuff he’s put together himself. He is using it to broadcast signals and music into outer space to attract aliens.

in advance of the landing douglas curranThe photo was taken by Douglas Curran a Ontario artist who spent eight years traveling throughout Canada and the United States in a second-hand car photographing and interviewing people who were obsessed with outer space.  John Shepherd’s photo is included in a book Douglas published in 1985 called In Advance of the Landing: Folk Concepts of Outer Space.  Chris Carter producer of the X Files says he used the book to develop the first six episodes of his television series. Artist Douglas Curran doesn’t believe in UFOS but as he interviewed and photographed folks who did, he was surprised at how their belief in alien life forms was almost spiritual for them and how it gave them hope.  

The people in Curran’s book weren’t alone in their interest in aliens and UFOS in the 1980s.  More than 50 movies were made on the topic during the decade including some very popular ones like ET,  Aliens, Cocoon, The Last Starfighter, Star Man and My Stepmother is an Alien.

Douglas Curran’s photo is only one of many intriguing pieces in The 80s Image exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.  Come and see for yourself. 

Other posts………

Three Lessons from the Movie Arrivals

A Where Were You Moment

North Watch

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Power of Print

diversity posterYesterday the guides who work in school programs at the Winnipeg Art Gallery met to learn about a new art activity we will be doing with children called The Power of Print.  Students will use printer ink, paint, stencils and their own creativity to create posters that send a message about an issue that is important to them.  As I was working on my poster about diversity I thought how just a few years ago I would have been so intimidated about creating art I wouldn’t have enjoyed an activity like this at all.  Now I can.  

Art professor and popular author Lynda Barry says so many of us never start creating art or we stop, because we think we are supposed to show mastery of the craft. But she says it is perfectly valid and in fact very important for everyone to feel they can use art as a way to explore their feelings, voice their opinions,  document their experiences or just  have fun and relax. 

Other posts……..

Oh To Be A Kid At The Fringe Festival

Story Sticks

Sunday Afternoon at the WAG


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