Inuit miniature carvings on display in Winnipeg

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Some of the tiniest examples of Inuit carvings are a big attraction at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The exhibit Small Worlds: Inuit Miniature Carving opened during the July 20-21 weekend.

Inuk artist Ulilak shaped this Man and Kayak with Two Swimming Caribou out of ivory and stone in 1959. The Winnipeg Art Gallery is using this tiny carving among close to 100 others in the exhibit Small Worlds: Inuit Miniature Carving. photo courtesy of Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, NA 766

More than 100 diminutive carvings by 19 Nunavummiut artists comprise the show. How small is the art? A piece by Sabina Qunqnirq Anaittuq showing four ivory birds perched on an decorative piece of bone measures a mere 4 cm x 12.5 cm x 4 cm.

“Historically, miniatures would be created to trade for necessities and other items, or to be sold at a Hudson’s Bay Company post or Inuit-owned co-operative,” the Winnipeg Art Gallery stated in a news release. “In other instances, miniature carvings of animals were created to bring good fortune to hunters.”

Kugaaruk’s Sabina Qunqnirq Anaittuq’s ivory and bone piece known as Birds, circa 1969, is one of the carvings on display as part of the Small Worlds: Inuit Miniature Carving exhibit on now at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. photo courtesy of Government of Nunavut Fine Art Collection. On long-term loan to the Winnipeg Art Gallery, NA 1076

Jocelyn Piirainen, assistant curator of Inuit Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, is curator for this exhibition, her first since the gallery hired her earlier this year.

“While looking through this collection, I noticed the large amount of both miniature and small carvings, and knew that these would be great to showcase in contrast to some of the larger carvings on display in the other galleries,” said Piirainen. “Many of these miniatures also reflect the everyday busyness of Inuit including that of men hunting seals, fish or whales – or of women scraping sealskins or tending to the qulliq (oil lamp). These scenes then create small worlds where stone and bone become the landscape, and the stories and livelihood of Inuit are told by these miniature carvings.”

The Government of Nunavut lent the carvings – most created between 1950-1970 – to the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

Small Worlds will be on view until winter 2020.