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"Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970"
2001-06-09 until 2001-09-30
Eiteljorg Museum of American and Western Art
Indianapolis, IN, USA

That's what Iqqaipaa (pronounced, roughly, ee-KY-puh) means in Inuktitut, the indigenous language spoken in the Canadian Arctic. And that's what you'll see when you visit the newest exhibition opening at the Eiteljorg Museum of American Indians and Western Art: the sculpted remembrances of a people who were forced to abandon centuries-old traditions in order to survive in today's cold-cash economy.

Remarkably, that abandonment led to the world's discovery of some of the most beautiful pieces of sculpture ever created.

Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970, is a travelling exhibition produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Hull, Quebec, and is presented locally by Roche Diagnostics Corp. and co-sponsored by Bank One Indiana N.A. The exhibit opens June 9 and runs through Sept. 30, 2001.

This is a fascinating glimpse of a culture unknown to most Americans, said John Vanausdall, president and CEO of the Eiteljorg Museum. This exhibition and the programs surrounding it are out of the ordinary for people in the United States.

For centuries, the Inuit (IN-you-it) - the indigenous people of the Canadian Arctic - lived in one of the coldest environments on the planet. As recently as the 1940s, most Canadian Inuit families traveled over the tundra by dogsled and lived in igloos in the winter, when the temperature drops to about 30 degrees below zero and the sun rises at 9 a.m. and sets at 2:30 p.m. Women took care of the camps and gathered plants to eat, while the men spent their time hunting caribou, seal and walrus and trapping Arctic fox, which brought in the cash they needed to buy what they couldn't find, make themselves or obtain in trade. And they thrived, surviving by their wits and their ability to make spontaneous, creative decisions.

But modern times caught up with the Inuit, with disastrous results. The price for Arctic fox plummeted, drying up their main source of cash. People suffered deprivation and periods of starvation. The Canadian government intervened, encouraging Inuit families to abandon their nomadic ways and settle into fledgling communities formed around a trading post, a missionary church and a Royal Canadian Mounted Police station.

As a result, these accomplished hunters, trappers and seamstresses found themselves in a situation where their finely honed skills no longer served them. Most didn't speak English, they could read and write only in syllabics (taught to them by missionaries), and many could not do arithmetic or drive a car. They became dependent on government relief. As their sense of self-sufficiency deteriorated, so too did their sense of pride and cultural identity.

Maria von Finckenstein, the exhibition's curator at the Canadian Museum of Civilization, interviewed a number of artists from among the first generation of Inuit to live in the settlements. In those conversations, one fact became clear: Most artists had experienced hardship and deprivation beyond what any of us in the South could imagine. (The Artists Speak, Celebrating Inuit Art 1948-1970, CMC, 1999.)

The 110 sculptures and 22 prints in Iqqaipaa: Celebrating Inuit Art, 1948-1970 present an impressive range of materials and artistic styles: a walrus tusk with delicate engravings of Arctic wildlife, the timeless theme of mother and child, depictions of dancing bears, whimsical creatures and shamanic pieces. Only 12 of the artworks have ever been on public display in the United States (Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1971).

Don't miss this rare chance to see the work of ordinary people who became extraordinary artists.

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