"I thought it was amazing ... I've never heard anything like that," said Brunswick resident Kim Flood as she sat amid the bustling reception in Hubbard Hall following yesterday's Inuit throat singing performance.
A floor below, visitors eagerly entered the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum's newest exhibit for the first time, as others mounted the candle-lined stairs to enjoy a spread of gourmet treats from the Dining Service.
The Arctic Museum's latest exhibit titled "Imagination Takes Shape," features roughly one third of a huge collection of contemporary Inuit carvings and prints given to the College by Judith and Robert Toll.
The practice of creating carvings and prints to sell began in the 1950s when the Inuit were incorporated into a mixed economy. Previously relying on fur trade through the Hudson Bay Company trading post in the Canadian arctic, they were left in need of an alternative source of income when fur prices collapsed.
The Inuit were already carving objects for daily use, so they began carving soapstone for sale. Inuit artists and hobbyists turned their work into additional income and a new market was born.
Recognizing the emerging and budget-friendly Inuit art market, the Tolls began compiling their 500-piece collection in the 1960s when they were both graduate students.
According to Director of the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum & Arctic Studies Center Susan Kaplan, "The planets were aligned perfectly" 10 years ago when the College connected with the Tolls. The Tolls were looking for a home for their collection, where it could be "appreciated and become part of an institution," said Kaplan.
Meanwhile, the Arctic Museum was seeking to build a collection of Canadian Inuit cultural objects, and to buttress their small collection of fine arts pieces.
The new exhibit brought many challenges, including renovating the museum's vintage display cases and updating its lighting systems.
When asked how the pieces in the exhibit were chosen from the larger collection, Arctic Museum Curator Genevieve LeMoine explained, "It's a back and forth process" in which you choose "pieces that explain the story you're trying to tell."
For LeMoine this "story" was the "expanding perceptions of a person as they grow up." The exhibit leads the viewer from depictions of families to images of hunting, to ceremonial occasions and finally to the spirit world.
Thursday's reception for the new exhibit was preceded by a performance featuring Inuit throat singers Nancy Mike and Lois Suluk-Locke.
Mike and Suluk-Locke come from two separate regions of Nunavut, a territory in Northern Canada. Mike has been throat singing since she was 14, learning through youth workshops.
Suluk-Locke began throat singing in 2005 under the instruction of friends and elders, and performed at the Vancouver Olympics this year. Both artists have toured internationally.
Mike and Suluk-Locke had not met prior to their arrival on campus, but their unfamiliarity was not a problem.
"The same basic songs can be sung by two strangers and they know what it means and what it imitates... the basic song is taught from generation to generation," said Suluk- Locke. "Throat singing is a form of entertainment, competition, prayer and chanting."
Historically, it was women who throat sang to pass the time and lull their babies to sleep.
Laughter is also a huge component of the art; the singers look into each other's eyes and often break into laughter when a mistake is made or the song loses its rhythm.
For first year Fabiola Navarrete, the laughter was her favorite part of the performance as it brought the artists and the audience together.
"How they interacted with the audience was really endearing," she said.
Although the performance and reception were celebratory, the performers also spoke candidly about threats to their culture.
Suluk-Locke's great-grandmother knew how to throat sing, but her mother does not because she was raised during a period when throat singing was banned by Christian missionaries.
On learning the art of throat singing Suluk-Locke said, "We can reclaim this...we can learn again."
"Knowing that my ancestors did it, I feel passionate about throat singing," said Mike. "It's important for someone who is not from the North [and] may interpret what the North is differently...to actually get to know [our culture]."
The exhibition "Imagination Takes Shape" will be on display until December 4.