Pitt Launches Indigenous Culture Festival With ‘Object Lesson: Inuit Sculpture’ – 71Bait

Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer

Sylvia Rhor Samneigo, Senior Lecturer in the Department of Art and Architectural History and Director and Curator at UAG, will lead Tuesday night’s “Object Lesson: Inuit Sculpture” event.

The University Art Gallery Inuit sculpture shows mother and child. Both mother and child are wrapped in warm clothing, with the mother wearing an ornate cloak and hood, with two pigtails at the back of her head. The mother carries the child in her arms.

The sculpture was presented Tuesday at an object education event as part of Pitts Justice, Diversity and Inclusion Office get started for the first time Indigenous Culture Festival.The festival will be held from September 19th to 25th.

The object lesson showed the work of Inuit the soapstone carving by sculptor Johnny Inukpuk, donated to UAG by Donald Nevins in 2002. The UAG hosted this event to discuss the history and issues related to Indigenous land ownership and the display of Indigenous artworks in museum collections.

Sylvia Rhor Samneigo, Lecturer at the Department of Art and Architectural History and UAG director and curator, led the object lesson. The event also included an explanation of the process used to create the sculpture by Paolo Piscitelli, a lecturer in the studio’s art department.

The object lesson began with a general visual observation of the lap-size sculpture, followed by Samaneigo asking the audience for initial thoughts and descriptions of the work.

The soapstone is light grey-black, with brown and gray stripes. Portions of the sculpture are smooth and patinated, such as the mother’s clothing and head, while others continue to show the original carvings and instrument markings, particularly along the decoration of the mother’s clothing.

Samaniego said this is a typical creation for Inukpuk as he is famous for his depictions of mother and child, especially mothers with prominent heads.

Amaya Lobato | Staff Photographer

Piscitelli then described the sculpting process Inukpuk used to create this work. He emphasized tools and emphasized the difference between pointed tools and toothed tools, rasps, hammers and whetstones. Piscitelli also pointed out that Inukpuk used the reductive method, where a sculptor removes material from the source to create this specific sculpture.

“[With the reductive method] you don’t know what you’ll find in the rock, you don’t know when you’ll be done,” Piscitelli said. “The sculpture bears the memory of the block.”

Samaniego also highlighted the history and socio-economic world Inukpuk lived in when he created this sculpture.

“Inukpuk lived in what is now northern Ontario,” Samaniego said, “in the late ’40s and ’50s the fur trade hit rock bottom and the situation was really bad.”

According to Samaniego, during this time Inuit creatives were encouraged to make “authentic” crafts for the tourist market south of the border. After the market for “authentic” Inuit handicrafts bottomed out, Inuit creatives turned their attention to the art market.

Samaniego ended the observational lesson by addressing the audience and asking for questions or comments, which turned into a conversation about authenticity.

Audience and community member Alyssa Potance asked some questions about the conditions under which marginalized artists share and create their work.

“Was this created with artists thinking about what outsiders want? Or did the artist create what he wanted to create?” Potance said. “And so I think part of me feels like maybe a conversation needs to be had about how we can empower marginalized artists to really speak with their voice through their art, and not to cloak or be silent, commercialize what they have to say to say it and basically live by what they think outsiders want them to do?”

According to Janina Lopez, a doctoral student in the Department of Art and Architectural History and a UAG graduate fellow who helped organize Tuesday’s event, UAG’s goal is to host this visual lesson and others in the future to help to showcase the gallery’s large collection of Inuit sculptures.

“So our goal with this object lesson series is going to be two per semester. Our goal is to pull things that are part of our collection out of storage and talk about them,” Lopez said.

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