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Photos courtesy Marja Helander, Dolastallat (To have a campfire), 2016. video still and Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. Timiga Nunalu Sikulu (My Body, the Land and the ice), 2016 (video still).

Esker Foundation focuses on the Arctic, gender identity in summer exhibitions

By Troy Hasselman, April 23 2019 —

The Esker Foundation is set for a busy summer of exhibitions, with works that deal with themes surrounding gender identity, ecology, Indigenous identity, language and the legacy of colonialism through differing artistic forms. The gallery is running three exhibitions through the summer, with two of them focusing on the Arctic and showcasing work from Inuit artists. The third piece will involve a local artist and focus on gender identity.

Among All These Tundras is set to run from June 1 to August 30. It takes its title from the poem “My Home is in My Heart” by Sámi writer Nils-Aslak Valkeapää. The exhibition features works from Indigenous artists from across the Arctic, including artists from Finland, Alaska and Norway. It takes a broad look at the lives of Indigenous people in the Arctic and their relationship to the land.

“Together, their works politically and poetically express current Arctic concerns towards land, language, sovereignty and resurgence,” a statement on the exhibition reads. “Artists from throughout the circumpolar north share kinship with each other and their ancestors, love for their homelands and respect for the land and its inhabitants. Yet they also share histories of colonialism and experience its ongoing legacies and are united in their desire to protect northern ecologies, languages, peoples and knowledge from the nefarious effects of climate change, encroaching industry and competition.”

Another Arctic-themed piece exhibited is Channel 51 – IGLOOLIK – Celebrating 30 years of Inuit Video Art, which takes a close look at video and visual art created by Inuit people. The piece details work from both the Isuma video collective and Arnait Women’s Video collective. Isuma is a renowned video collective responsible for acclaimed and influential works such as the 2001 film Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner.

“Isuma, a collective of nine filmmakers both Inuit and non-Inuit, and Arnait Women’s Video collective have been producing films and videos for a long time,” says Esker Foundation marketing and communication head Jill Henderson. “It has been announced that Isuma, as a collective, will represent Canada in the next Venice Biennale. This exhibition is in partnership with V-Tape — an artist-run video and resources non-profit in Toronto — which has Isuma’s entire library of films and video. We’re going to have a lounge-type viewing where the audience will be able to come in and watch the films made by these two collectives.”

The collective nature of the work is meant to challenge the idea of the artist as an individual as opposed to a part of a larger group. The combination of Indigenous and non-Indigenous artists in the work shows what the Esker Foundation calls “a model for how non-Indigenous artists can contribute to decolonial artistic practice” that goes “beyond the immediate social effects of cultural production and co-operation.”

The two exhibitions focusing on themes of the Arctic and northern Indigenous people is a first for the foundation and, Henderson believes, a first for Calgary.

“One thing that’s exciting about the combination of Among All These Tundras and Channel 51 together is featuring the north explicitly in the galleries,” Henderson says. “That’s quite a commitment to Inuit and the polar North and I think that’s something that’s not been seen in Calgary before.”

Along with the thematic similarities between the two pieces, Henderson also noted a crossover in the artists involved in the exhibitions.

“Asinnajaq, one of the artists in Among All These Tundras, is also curating the Isuma piece,” Henderson says. “So there’s quite a few connections between the exhibitions.”

Along with this crossover, the Inuit artist Kablusiak will have their work featured in the galleries, which showcases works from emerging artists starting in the beginning of August.

Another exhibit that will be presented is May G N: Occlusion Field, which will run from May 6 to July 21 and is presented in collaboration with Calgary’s Untitled Art Society. The exhibit is a showcase of the work of local transfeminine artist May G N and focuses on themes of gender identity and its inherent complexity. G N has previously presented at Calgary’s TRUCK Contemporary Gallery and Left Contemporary in Windsor.

“This exhibition will be in the galleries,” says Henderson. “Occlusion Field will be predominantly an installation of collage, print and 2D-image works. It also will be reflecting on gender and the personal narrative of the artist.”

In a first for the Esker Foundation, performances will as well be a part of the exhibits. Allison Akootchook Warden, an Indigenous artist from Alaska, will perform the piece siku/siku during the exhibition opening for Among All These Tundras on May 31. Warden’s visual art is also featured in the exhibition.

Works by Isuma can be viewed online at Isuma.tv, which contains hundreds of hours of the collective’s work.

More information about the summer exhibitions at Esker Foundation can be found at eskerfoundation.com. The Esker Foundation is located on the fourth floor of 1011 Ninth Ave. SE and is open from 11 a.m. – 6 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday. Admission to the gallery is free.

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