Known as one of the most popular all-nighters in Montreal, QC, Nuit Blanche showcases a taste of the city’s arts and culture scene with offerings from literature to performance art and more, all night long. Celebrating its sixteenth edition, this year’s festival took place from the evening of March 2 into the morning of March 3, 2019 under the uniting theme of le Futur! (The Future!). Included as part of this year’s exhibition was Memory Keepers/Gardiens des mémoires, a multimedia installation created by a group of seven Indigenous artists, six of whom are Inuit.
Nunavut-based sculptor Jesse Tungilik, Inuvialuk multimedia artist Tom McLeod, Inuvialuk painter Darcie Bernhardt, Halifax-based, Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet)-raised painter Megan Kyak-Monteith, Newfoundland-born Inuk animator Glenn Gear, and Nunatsiavummiuk graphic artist Jason Sikoak collaborated on the installation together alongside Montreal-based Algonquin filmmaker and artist Caroline Monnet.
Organized by Dr. Heather Igloliorte of Concordia University, Dr. Carla Taunton of NSCAD and Dr. Julie Nagam of the University of Winnipeg with MA student Lesley Beardy under their newly formed GLAM Collective, short for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, the project was the culmination of a week-long intensive artist residency at Concordia University. Comprised of film, animation, sculpture and sound, the collaboration was installed in the courtyard space of the FOFA Gallery and supported by grant funding held by GLAM from the Social Sciences Humanities and Research Council (SSHRC) in addition to the Concordia Office of Community Engagement and the Concordia Department of Art History as well as the Initiative for Indigenous Futures.
Welcoming viewers was a mixed media sculpture of an Inuk hunter butchering a seal within a canvas tent by Jesse Tungilik in collaboration with Jason Sikoak. Titled Feeding my Family (2019), both the hunter and the seal are covered entirely in Northern and NorthMart receipts—a commentary on contemporary Inuit subsistence and food prices and insecurity.
“With Feeding My Family I wanted to explore the disconnection from Inuit subsistence hunting due to forced relocation and transition onto the wage economy,” says Tungilik. “I wanted to draw attention to the realities of food insecurity and the prohibitively high cost of living in the North today.”
Inuit nutrition and the social and cultural role of food were an important theme carried through the installation, shared with the the audience as tea, bannock and arctic char were served throughout the evening. Screened on the back of the canvas tent sheltering Tungilik and Sikoak’s hunter and the seal was a hand painted stop motion animation by Megan Kyak-Monteith of a table top in which hands prepare and share mattak (whale skin and blubber) from a narwhal. Kyak-Monteith describes her artistic process as beginning by painting the tabletop, and then placing a sheet of Plexiglas overtop to create each scene, wiping away or adjusting the oil paint as needed. She characterizes her week-long residency as “intense,” but one that allowed her to form strong connections with her fellow artists as they worked together in the days leading up to the exhibition.
Animator Glenn Gear emphasizes the importance of the installation as a way of mobilizing shared resources and traditional knowledge with other artists to reach a common goal. “This process of problem solving within the moment with given materials and being adaptable is at the heart of many Indigenous ways of working and creating collectively,” says Gear. “Memory Keepers speaks to the diversity of Indigenous voices as well as our shared history through video, audio, sculpture, storytelling and visual arts, and through the sharing of traditional food with the public.”
These relationships and conversations are reflected in a seven minute looped video by Caroline Monnet and projected directly onto one of the courtyard’s brick walls. The film is comprised of portraits and footage of each of the artists in addition to audio of Monnet’s interviews with her colleagues. Exploring their perspectives on the South and the urban environment of Montreal was a focal point for Monnet. “I was the only southerner, so it was a really interesting dialogue to have with them,” Monnet explains. “They all come from areas I have never visited before, which was really fascinating for me. We had suggested projecting my video onto the brick wall, and right onto the urban landscape.”
“We wanted to provide a public art platform for the Inuit, Inuvialuit and Algonquin artists we collaborated with to make new work for Nuit Blanche,” Igloliorte, Tauton and Nagam shared in a joint statement. “We think it is not only important to take up and indigenize space, but also to create opportunities for artists to come together, learn from and mentor each other and push their own practices in new and exciting ways.”
This collaborative process was an experiment in bringing personal, community and familial stories to life, as artists were given the time and opportunity to explore their memories and share their experiences throughout the intensive with one another. And, ultimately, with their audience. Together, Memory Keepers/Gardiens des mémoires is a unique and thought provoking experiment in collaborative making that provides a precedent for further intersections between emerging and mid-career artists from across Inuit Nunangat and the South.
Emily Henderson is a Contributing Editor at Inuit Art Quarterly and a final year Anthropology Student at the University of British Columbia. She is currently Editor-in-Chief of The Ethnograph: Journal of Anthropological Studies.