The evening calendar for my February trip to Toronto was a full one: two operas (Don Giovanni, Die Walküre) and Angela Lansbury in Blithe Spirit. One theatrical hit, one operatic hit and one operatic miss that was was a hit musically but a total disaster theatrically – but I’m not a critic so what can I say.
The days were a bit cold (-24c) for much in the way of tromping around town but fortunately the hotel was within a short walk of the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). It had been many, many (and I could add several more manys) moons since I had been inside the Gallery and though the big attraction was the Jean-Michel Basquiat exhibition my destination were two much smaller, but to my taste, more interesting installations: Memory Unearthed: The Łódź Ghetto Photographs of Henryk Ross and Manasie Akpaliapik.
The story of the Łódź Ghetto is a complex one that has given rise to books, essays and articles that tell the many sides of life in the second largest ghetto of the Nazi period but more importantly the stories of the men, women and children who lived in this devastating page of European history. I will simply say that the exhibition of Henryk Ross‘s photographs made me angry and it was one of those exhibitions that I left on the verge of tears. And I say that as a good reaction to a disturbing but important display of both the inhumanity of man and the resilience of mankind.*
|Manasie Akpaliapik – the Inuit artist.|
The small exhibition of pieces by Inuit artist Manasie Akpaliapik moved me but in a different way. Unlike the Ross exhibition they are contained in one space and brightly lit and in their own way show the history, the changes and, in many ways, decline of a society.
Akpaliapik was born at the northern most tip of Baffin Island – a hunting camp in IK-PI-AR-JUK (the Pocket) on Arctic Bay, 700 kilometres north of the Arctic Circle. His parents, Lazaroosee and Nakyuraq Akpaliapik, were both sculptors in the Arctic Bay community; his adopted grandparents, artists Peter and Elisapee Kanangnaq Ahlooloo, and his maternal great aunt Paniluk Qamanirq began to teach him to carve when he was about ten years old. He learned by watching them, and as they carved the elders would recount Inuit legends and stories. These stories were to influence his work as much as the techniques they taught him.
At the age of twelve he was sent to a Residential School. Suppression, sometimes violent, of the language (Inuktitut), the traditional culture and values of his people led him to leave school at the age of sixteen and return to Arctic Bay in 1971. He began to examine his heritage and to work on carvings that reflected life in his wider community. He married but tragically lost his wife and children in a house fire in 1980. He moved to Montreal and began to work in earnest using new techniques, varied materials and learning to refine the details of his work. He considered the links between the traditions, those legends and stories of his family, life in the North and the mounting problems of alcohol, unemployment, drugs and rootlessness experienced by the people of the Arctic. Carving became a healing process for him and a way of focusing attention on the problems of his people.
The pieces on display at the AGO are from the Collection of Samuel and Esther Sarick, one of the most comprehensive collections of Inuit art in the world. The Sarick’s gifted the AGO with the collection in the late 1990s.
As I mentioned this exhibition was small – only twelve pieces of varying sizes – from a slender carving of a hunter riding (or perhaps being dragged by) a narwhal (left) to two large sculptures made from the ossified bone from the bases of whale skulls – I’ve created videos from the walk-around of these two extraordinary pieces. Amongst the other materials he uses are ivory, antler, stone, horn, baleen and stone. Unfortunately I didn’t get all the information on the works on display so several of the photos have no identification as to title or materials used. An e-mail to the AGO asking for information has gone unanswered so I will have to leave some things untitled.
whale bone, ivory, bone, antler – 1995-96.
This double sided ivory carving shows the two sides of life for the Inuit: one based on the traditions of the North, the other the influences from the outside that has destroyed many of those traditions.
There is a wealth of art created by Inuit artists working in both the traditional and the modern style that deserves to be explored. This small exhibition opened my eyes to a small portion of what is out there by one artist. On my next visit to Toronto in May I plan to spend some time at the Museum of Inuit Art at Queen’s Quay – an attraction I must admit I had no knowledge of until I read two short pieces on the use of whale bone in Inuit carving: I’ve Got a Bone to Pick and Let’s Talk About Whalebone.
*I use both the terms man and mankind in their inclusive meaning and should that offend anyone then they do not know me and any flames will be extinguished immediately.
April 16 – 1910: The oldest existing indoor ice hockey arena still used for the sport in the 21st century, Boston Arena, opens for the first time.