Young visitors to the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new addition Qaumajuq sometimes ask me why there are so many holes in the ceiling. I can’t be sure what the architect Michael Maltzan had in mind when he designed the building but Maxine Angoo an Inuk from Whale Cove Nunavut said in an interview that the ceiling’s many skylights remind her of seal holes in the Arctic ice.
I tell the children who visit the gallery that the Arctic Ocean is home to six kinds of seals- harp, hooded, ringed, bearded, spotted, and ribbon. In autumn and early winter, the seals must make breathing holes in the ice so they can come up for air regularly.
Some seals have claws up to 2.5 centimetres thick that help them make breathing holes. I have read that some seals use their teeth to make holes in the ice and can also butt against the ice with their heads or breathe on the ice to melt it.
The Inuktitut word for a seal hole is aglu. Seals remember where they have made their aglu’s so they can revisit them.
Unfortunately for the seals, polar bears also know about the seal holes and can be waiting at the edges of them when the seals come up for a breath.
Some visitors to the gallery have told me the holes in the ceiling remind them of the holes in the tops of igloos that allow for ventilation.
Of course, the holes which open to the sky and flood the new addition to the art gallery with natural light illustrate its name Qaumajuq which means ‘it is bright-it is lit.’
The stunning architecture of Qaumajuq is an artwork in and of itself that will always be on view even as the installations change in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s new addition.