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The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq museum. Photo: Lindsay Reid.
The Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Qaumajuq museum. Photo: Lindsay Reid.

Winnipeg Art Gallery Opens World’s First Museum Devoted to Inuit Art

The Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) is slated to open its newly constructed Qaumajuq, the world’s first museum devoted to Inuit art, to the public on March 27, with a two-day virtual celebration featuring artwork, performances, and ceremonies preceding the physical launch. Characterized as a museum within a museum, Qaumajuq (pronounced “KOW-ma-yourk”) cost $52.4 million and comprises a 40,000-square-foot extension of WAG’s downtown campus. The new institution, whose name means “it is bright, it is lit” in Inuktitut, was developed following the 2015 recommendations of Canada’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and is meant to “acknowledge [Canada’s] colonial past and move forward in the spirit of reconciliation and collaboration,” said WAG director Stephen Borys, who added that the new museum “also connects Canada’s north and south, promoting sharing and understanding. It brings communities together through the universal language of art.”

More than ninety artists will present works, ranging from an eighty-year-old carving to a recent sealskin space suit, in Qaumajuq’s inaugural exhibition, titled “Inua” (Inuit Move Forward Together). The fledgling institution now houses WAG’s roughly 14,000-piece collection of contemporary Inuit art, the largest in the world, representing some 2,000 artists and dating as far back as the 1880s, many of which languished in storage for decades. Another 7,400 pieces are on long-term loan from the Government of Nunavut.

Quamajuq’s central feature is an 8,000-square-foot gallery boasting thirty-foot-high ceilings studded with twenty-two skylights. Named Qilak, which is Inuit for “sky,” the gallery is meant to embody the vastness of northern Canada and hosts a dedicated Inuit art display. Among the museum’s other features are the Giizhig/Kisik (“sky, heaven, day” in Cree/Michif/Ojibwe) gallery intended for events and ceremonies); a Knowledge and Sharing center, featuring an outdoor carving porch; a number of studios; a theater; and a café.