Opening Reception: Wednesday, April 17, 6 – 9 pm
The collective has a loose collaborative model with members taking on various roles over the years. It was founded in Igloolik in 1991 by Madeline Ivalu, Susan Avingaq, Martha Makkar, Mathilda Hanniliaq, and Marie-Hélène Cousineau. Other women who got involved in various ways include Mary Kunuk, Atuat Akittirq, Carol Kunnuk, and Alethea Arnaquq-Baril. Uyarak (Lucy Tulugarjuk) is the new president of Arnait.
Arnait’s original name in Inuktitut, Arnait Ikajurtigiit, means “women helping each other.” Thus, their works are uniquely collaborative and produced from a fiercely female perspective: investigatory and tender at the same time. The collective explores time-based art in the broadest possible definition, from hand-making objects using traditional methods to producing digital art. In taped interviews, re-enactments, feature films, experimental animations, and multi-episode documentaries, Arnait has rendered the possibilities of moving images as seemingly limitless.
Their subjects are equally broad: Inuit tradition, self-determination, children, family, intergenerational learning, and new ways of communicating and being together across the geographic distances and cultural differences between North and South. They also address difficult contemporary issues affecting post-contact Inuit life, including suicide, mental health, racism, addiction, and the environmental destruction resulting from resource extraction in the North. Premiered at AGYU, the new work in the exhibition, Igalaaq/Seeing Through (2019), shows hope. Bringing innovation and tradition together and facilitating communication between North and South through the use of video chat technology, Igalaaq literally is a portal for collectively stepping into the future.
The originality of Arnait’s works is rooted in efforts taken to create a production process in harmony with the lives of the women involved in each project. The collective’s production values reflect the cultural values of participants, such as: respect for Elders, for hunting and fishing seasons, for traditions belonging to particular families, and for community events. They work as a team to write each script, to make the costumes and props, and to shape the interaction and performances of the actors. With strength, grace, humour, and resilience, the works in Arnait Ikajurtigiit: Women helping each other offer a model of learning by doing.
Arnait’s rare and urgent collaborative working model is useful for everyone at a time when Indigenous-settler relations in Canada and North–South relations in North America are deeply strained. In spite of the ever-growing influence of Western culture, Inuit people today continue to thrive through adaptation that brings together innovation and tradition. Seen from the perspective of women of Igloolik over three decades, the works in the exhibition (including film, objects, and photography) show the continual change inherent to Inuit life. Throughout, intergenerational teachings hold strong.
Arnait Ikajurtigiit: Women helping each other is a Primary Exhibition of 2019 Scotiabank CONTACT Festival and presented in partnership with the 2019 Images Festival. It is curated by Interim Assistant Director/Curator Alissa Firth-Eagland.
Image credits: Film stills from Tia and Piujuq copyright Arnait Video Productions 2018. Courtesy of Arnait Video Productions.