Printed Textiles From Kinngait Studios Transcript

I'm William Huffman and I work with the West Baffin Cooperative located in Kinngait, Nunavut and we got offices in Toronto and in Kinngait. I travel between the two — I like to say it's one of the biggest commutes in the world and my organization for the last 62 years has been responsible for providing encouragement, supplies, professional development to artists in the region to make the beautiful sculptures, prints and drawings that we all know and love that have come out of of Kinngait, formerly known as Cape Dorset, for those viewers.

The organization, I've been there for about eight years and we've had some remarkable moments and one of those is this really terrific exhibition Printed Textiles from Kinngait Studios and we were a very willing collaborator with the Textile Museum. And to give you a little bit of background, I didn't curate the show — contributed very little to the curatorial of the show. However it was one afternoon, I was doing some — I tried to find some banal paperwork in our storage locker and so I'm up on a ladder I'm pulling things out and this in my effort to find the banal paperwork, this thing falls on my head literally and what's inside but this treasure of textiles.

So, in thinking this is something special, I've got a sense that this has got a, you know, we got to look at this and figure out who should be telling us and advising us on what to do with it. So that was the next call to the Textile Museum and 250 of them we had in total spread between our offices in Toronto and the archives in the Kinngait offices and those are now part of the permanent collection of the Textile Museum and that exhibition is traveling across the country. It's an amazing genesis.

You can find within this collection work by some of the most famous, you know, artists out of Cape Dorset/Kinngait, like Kenojuak Ashevak, who is arguably one of the most important and famous Inuit artists, I would also say one of the most important and famous Canadian artists. She has worked well represented prints in that collection we've got other artists on the other side Sharni Pootoogook, who's an artist I discovered in the time that I've been working with the organization — very little print and very little drawing — however, she was prominent within the textile program. Now, the significance in that is that you've got, you know, these are huge artists, you know, the greatest hits kind of thing with Kenojuak and then you've got Sharni Pootoogook who was prominent within the program but because the program was so short, we kind of lost that memory of who she was.

So this has given us a great opportunity to reinvest in some of those narratives about artists who were lesser known but I think equally as talented and prospered within this program. The other thing that's really remarkable for me in looking at what we've got is, you know, there's a lot of discourse around, you know, the traditional knowledge and you know Inuit cultural heritage and how these these objects are very important whether it's a piece of textile or if it's a sculpture or a print or a drawing. I think, I look at it a little bit differently. Yes, that's an important part of this narrative but I look at it like — think about this in the '50s, we had a program where artists were making screen prints on fabric in the Arctic.

I've always said that the, you know, what is the magic of Kinngait Studios and the West Baffin Cooperative, the fact that it's in the Arctic, you know, it could be anywhere else in the world, it's improbable, almost impossible that it would be able to prosper in the Arctic and it has and this program is a really good example of that and I think instead of looking at this history or through a lens of history, I like to look at it, like, once again another example of how innovative this studio was.

You know, if they were they've made so many really iconic images that have become part of you know dollar bills, they become part of stamps. they've, you know, on coins and currency and also recognized as some of the most important images in Canadian art history. Then, you look at this this amazing textile program. I think, God, get another layer of that innovation, another layer of that prosperity that the visual arts has brought to the community. So the name of the project is the Printed Textiles from Kinngait Studios. It's an exhibition that we developed in partnership with the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative.

It went on display in the fall of 2019 and the exhibition is a story about a little-known fabric printing initiative that took place in Kinngait Studios in the 1950s and '60s during a period of social change that disrupted traditional languages and relationships to the land and there were artists and printmakers in the studios who produced bold graphic printed textiles with images that spoke to legends, stories and traditional way of life and we worked closely with the community on the development of the exhibition. I was able to fortunately visit the community and I brought images of these textiles and shared them with the community and told them the research that we had done at that point which to, sort of, fill out the story of the development of the initiative and the marketing and so on that took place after and the community was very interested.

There were members of the community that actually recognized their relatives' work, the names of the relatives and families but many of them didn't realize that they had been involved in fabric printing. This took place actually just before the experiments on fabric, just before the print program got underway in. So, it's an untold story and we wanted to tell the story and bring it back to Kinngait and so, we proceeded, with as I said, research and through the exhibition we traced the evolution the development of this fabric printing in the community.

The impact of the project, I think — the huge impact was to try and bring more awareness and visibility to these artists and printmakers that were working sixty years ago to produce these fabrics and so having the opportunity to do the exhibition. We also did a catalog and the exhibition is touring at the moment as a person that works in a museum it was an opportunity to really sort of understand the transformative role that museums can have in the reclamation of Indigenous cultural identity and culture.

And so, through doing exhibitions and through collections and programming and so on, this was I think also an impact there and finally it's interesting that the exhibition represents what would previously have been unattributed work by artists in the print in the program that are well known all over the world actually for for the prints but nobody knew that they were actually the artists that produced the designs in these textiles.

So, the whole story was really an opportunity to sort of recognize the place and importance of this fabric, textile printing initiative in the history of unionwood art and you know sort of bring the story out and for people to learn about it.