In celebration of National Aboriginal Day, the Canadian Museum of Nature opens the new, permanent Canada Goose Arctic Gallery today. A highlight of the new space is Ilurqusivut (Our Ways), a large-scale mural created by Inuk artist Nancy Saunders, aka Niap. Saunders is the winner of a juried competition sponsored by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada for the new space. The contest called on artists to submit work that produces an anamorphorsis effect—an optical illusion that makes a two-dimensional work appear three-dimensional. Saunders’ work reflects her mix of urban street art and traditional Inuit subject matter and features colourful, geometric shapes and graphics overlaid with narrative imagery.
The completed mural spans seven walls and is the first thing visitors experience when entering the new gallery space. The base of the work is a mix of bright, angular shapes, painted so that the overall design appears to protrude from the wall and into the gallery. Along the top of the wall a colourful Inuit tattoo design creates balances between graphic elements. Laid over the abstract patterns are photo realistic images of Arctic wildlife including a seal, caribou and geese, as well as an Inuk hunter. Saunders describes the hunter, dressed in traditional garments as showcasing, “the amazing ingenuity [of Inuit] in using what the land offers in order to keep warm, which [remains] true to this day.” The hunter is positioned at the top of a group of triangular shapes that form an iceberg beneath his feet. Drawn in graphite pencil, both the man and animals stand out from the bright background and loom large over visitors.
Saunders, who relocated from Kuujjuaq to Montreal for school, blends the influences of urban life with traditional Inuit imagery. “Sometimes these two worlds can seem confrontational. I am living in the city but very much influenced by my Inuit culture so I try to reconcile both [spaces] in my work because both inspire me very much,” explains Saunders. For Ilurqusivut, the artist focused on faithfully capturing each detail of the hunter, rendered from a photograph, to share with the public a figure who is “proud and stoic”. This is the artist’s biggest and most visible work to date, completed with the assistance of mural painters Adrian Baker and Karen Phillips Curran.
In addition to Saunders’ permanent installation is the Northern Voices Gallery, a special rotating exhibition space curated by Inuit or Northern-based organizations. The Kitikmeot Heritage Society, based in Iqaluktuuttiaq on Victoria Island presents the inaugural show, Inuinnauyugut: We are Inuinnait. The National Film Board has also collaborated with the CMN to create Beyond Ice an interactive sensorial exhibit. Each installation included in the new Canada Goose Arctic Gallery showcases the biodiversity of the North. Alongside natural elements, dynamic artist projects like Saunders’ Ilurqusivut (Our Ways) forefront Indigenous perspectives and the relationship of artists to the environment.