Isuma to Represent Canada in 2019 Venice Biennale

The National Gallery of Canada announced today that the artist collective Isuma, led by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, will represent Canada at the Fifty-Eighth Venice Biennale, expected to open in May 2019. The group’s participation will mark the first time art by members of the Inuit community have been featured in Canada’s pavilion.

Isuma, which means “to think, or a state of thoughtfulness” in Inuktitut, is Canada’s first Inuit video-based production company. Cofounded by Kunuk, Cohn, Paul Apak Angilirq, and Pauloosie Qulitalik in 1990, the collective aims to preserve Inuit culture and language and to present their stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences around the world.

“Since the mid-1990s the Isuma collective has been challenging stereotypes about ways of life in the North and breaking boundaries in video art, including the first video-based work to win a major film award at the prestigious Cannes film festival,” said National Gallery of Canada director and CEO, Marc Mayer.

Isuma is known for its community-based style of filmmaking. Its features, documentaries, and television series have been screened at the Cannes Film Festival and Documenta as well as at the Edinburgh International Film Festival, the Toronto International Film Festival, and the Sundance Film Festival, among others. Commenting on the group’s work, Cohn said that it was a form of collective survival.

“Inuit went from Stone Age to Digital Age in my lifetime,” Kunuk said. “I was on Baffin Island, living on the land, and I saw the last of that era. Since we have an oral history, nothing is written down – everything is taught by what you see. Your father’s fixing up the harpoon; you watch how he does it and you learn from it. For the medium I work in now, it was the same. Oral history and new technology match. I am trying to do this with my videos—tell the story behind how we lived. We try to make everything authentic so a hundred years from now when people see our films they’ll know how to do it.”

Isuma was selected by a national committee that comprised Naomi Potter, the director and curator of the Esker Foundation; Matthew Hyland, the director of Oakville Galleries; Candice Hopkins, an independent curator and writer; Josée Drouin-Brisebois, the senior curator of contemporary art at the National Gallery of Canada; and Marc Mayer, the director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. The project curator, who will be selected by the artists, will be announced in 2018.