Everyone’s A Little Bit Racist

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Inuit were encouraged to create art pieces for a ‘tourist’ audience that incorporated Inuit “traditional symbolism” on western objects as a way to become self-sufficient and enter a wage economy. Many art objects were made in direct response to an instructional booklet entitled “Sunuyuksuk: Eskimo Handicrafts” issued by the Canadian Handicrafts Guild and the Department of Resources & Development. In this booklet, James Houston suggested what Inuit should make and the materials they should use to appeal to a Southern audience.

 This experiment proved to be ultimately unsuccessful as the work produced based on the booklet was viewed as lacking authenticity of the Inuit experience and the mass production of similar art pieces caused them to lose their originality.

The impact of this booklet during the formative years of modern Inuit art production however continues to be seen. Two clear streams of contemporary Inuit art have been established as a result: handicraft and fine art production.

As consumers, our perception of what constitutes “Inuit art” has also been influenced by this publication and the subsequent marketing of the art form. As a result, some contemporary artists struggle to successfully create pieces that explore new subject matters or take their art production in new directions.

Visit our temporary exhibition inside the museum to learn more.