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Arctic museum celebrates Inuit art: Inuit Art Society and artists Adams, Williams visit campus

September 29, 2023

Cora Dow
ARCTIC ARTISTS: Brian Adams and Jennie Williams pose in front of “Iñuit Qiñigaani: Contemporary Inuit Photography." The exhibition was curated by Adams, who resides in Anchorage, Alaska.

Among century-old artifacts held in the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum (PMAM)—sleds, maps, four taxidermy polar bears—the museum also houses a new exhibition: “Inuit Qiñi?aa?ii: Contemporary Inuit Photography,” featuring select works from five different Inuit photographers from Alaska, Canada and Greenland. The exhibition opened in May alongside the John and Lile Gibbons Center for Arctic Studies—the new location of the museum and one of the newest buildings on campus. Open to the public and free of charge, “Iñuit Qiñi?aa?i” can be found in the center’s third floor galleries.

Featured photographers Brian Adams and Jennie Williams traveled from Anchorage, Alaska and Happy Valley-Goose Bay, Labrador, Canada to visit campus this week. It is both artists’ first time in Maine and their first time seeing the photography exhibition, which was curated by Adams himself. Williams and Adams will host a roundtable discussion today in Smith Auditorium in Sills Hall at 4 p.m.

During the discussion, Adams will present pieces from his body of work titled “Ilatka: The Inuit Word for My Relatives.” The ongoing project, which started in 2018, documents Inuit life in the circumpolar—from Alaska and Canada to Russia and Greenland.

Williams will be showing her 2021 short film “Nalujuk Night,” created with the National Film Board of Canada. Shot in Nain, Labrador, the film captures the tradition of Nalujuk Night, which happens annually on January 6 among Inuit of Nunatsiavut. It won the Canadian Screen Award for Best Short Documentary in 2022—no small feat for Williams’ debut film as a director and filmmaker. Williams has photographed Nalujuk Night on January 6 for 12 years prior to making the film, and she will also show some of the photographs from her 12 years capturing Nalujuk Night at the discussion.

Adams and Williams met with Professor of Art Michael Kolster’s Documentary Photography class on Wednesday, where students watched “Nalujuk Night.”

“We watch films for an idea on how to approach documentary photography,” Marcus Gadsden ’24, a student in the class, said. “[‘Nalujuk Night’] was amazing. It’s won a ridiculous amount of awards.”

The class also had the opportunity to ask the artists about their photography, and ask Adams about his experience curating the exhibit.

“It’s always great to look at amazing photos, but it’s also great to hear artists’ voices behind their pictures,” Gadsden said. “The curation was amazing. [Adams] did a fantastic job of finding artists that fit the narrative.”

Williams and Adams’ visit to the College is in conjunction with the annual meeting of the Inuit Art Society (IAS), which is convening at Bowdoin for the first time this year in coordination with the PMAM and the Arctic Studies program.

On Thursday night, the IAS held an opening ceremony in Kresge Auditorium, featuring a presentation from keynote speaker Nelson Graburn, a professor emeritus in Sociocultural Anthropology at the University of California, Berkeley. PMAM and Arctic Studies Center director Susan Kaplan described Graburn as an “authority” on Inuit art. Williams opened the presentation with a song and Inuit drum performance.

Graburn’s presentation focused on “transformation” in Canadian Inuit art and its reflection of relationships between the Canadian North and South.

Aggie Macy ’24 is a student of Kaplan’s Contemporary Arctic Environmental and Cultural Issues class and a curatorial assistant at the PMAM who attended the keynote presentation.

“To me, Graburn’s lecture was a nod towards the balancing act of preserving traditional Inuit culture while also acknowledging a modernized present,” she said.

Williams and Adams will be giving tours of “Iñuit Qiñi?aa?i” to members of the IAS on Friday. While the exhibition includes separate gallery walls for each of its five photographers, Adams and Williams’ favorite part of the exhibit is the gallery wall of all five artists’ photos mixed together. Adams has coined it the “cloud-wall.”

The wall is inspired by the scattering of framed family photos typically found in Inuit homes.

“[In] a lot of homes I’ve always gone into, in different villages in Alaska and in Canada, there’s so much representation of family and history on a wall when you walk into a house. It’s all classically printed and framed photos, just put [on the wall] chaotically,” Adams said.

Adams tried to emulate the “chaos” and “personal touch” of the family photo wall in the cloud-wall. Works from all five photographers create a collage of different styles, colors and subjects. The largest photo at its center is one of Adams’ own pieces that depicts a family photo wall—the very same that the cloud-wall is modeled after.

Adams highlighted the personal significance behind one of the photos on his gallery wall. It comes from his collection “I Am Inuit,” which Adams created while working with the Inuit Circumpolar Council of Alaska. The photo depicts three nude men using a steam bath after work.

“[I am Inuit] was such a fun project because all it was was me wandering around in different villages, gathering these stories. Growing up in Alaska as a photographer, I knew all of these other photographers in the community, but none of them were Alaska natives or Inuit.… A pretty photo of a Native was what they were trying to sell,” he said.. “I had never seen a photo like this representing Inuits. When I made this photo, I was so happy just to have made it because I had never seen something like it before.”

While the Inuit Art Society will only be at Bowdoin for a few days, “Iñuit Qiñi?aa?i: Contemporary Inuit Photography” will be open at the PMAM until May 2024.



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