States of Postcoloniality/NORTH


FUSE headquarters are located on occupied Indigenous land. Prior to European colonization, Toronto was an important meeting place for Anishinabek, Haudenausenee and other Aboriginal nations. An underlying goal of our States of Postcoloniality series is to acknowledge the regional and global connections between localized colonial realities. With this issue on the North, we acknowledge that while gulfs of geographic and cultural difference separate southern Canada from Inuit Nunangat, our fates are actually closely entwined—a reality perhaps most starkly demonstrated by the rapid rate of climate change in the Arctic, a major force in the contemporary dispossession of Inuit communities. [1]

With the States of Postcoloniality series, FUSE set out to engage the roles of artists and the arts in a global politics of decolonization. With this issue, we are concerned with art’s contribution to Indigenous sovereignty in the North. Since the 1950s, the great majority of Inuit art was produced in co-operative organizations established with the assistance of the federal government as part of a vital economic development initiative following the enforced settlement of Inuit into fixed communities. [2] Baffin Island co-ops—in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) in particular—have been particularly prolific, lucrative and widely celebrated. The majority of FUSE’s North issue concerns either Nunatsiavut (Labrador) or the western Arctic, where co-ops have not had a significant influence, if any, on artists’ practices. As such, our treatment of the North hovers around the boundaries of what is typically understood as “Inuit Art.”

Currently, we are witnessing the consolidation of what curator and scholar Heather Igloliorte calls an “Inuit avant-garde,” whose subject matter is often drawn from contemporary colonial realities and is, in many cases, critical of the economic and political structures that enforce them. [3] Inuit artists are increasingly exhibiting alongside Quaalunat (non-Inuit) artists in prestigious contemporary art galleries, [4] suggesting significant shifts in the way their work is valued by mainstream audiences. These developments, along with the aggressive pursuit of resource extraction in the North, mean that the economy of Inuit art production looks to be in for seismic transformations. It is within this changing landscape that we wish to delve into the potential for art as a decolonizing force.

Alongside the structural work being carried out by organizations such as the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, the Inuit avant-garde contributes to decolonization in two major ways. First, they use art as a public venue for potent forms of truth-telling, insisting that Canadian residents and our government acknowledge and take accountability for colonial violence in the North. [5] Second, they use art as a way to consolidate, celebrate and nourish Inuit knowledge as a crucial component of the wellbeing of Inuit populations and lands. The importance of truth-telling and the resilience of Inuit knowledge are introduced in this issue’s Short FUSE section. They are further engaged by the essays and projects that follow, crossing through Indigenous governance, climate change research, intercultural exchange and the politics of alliance and solidarity.

Absent from these pages are the film, video and new media artists whose work occupies an important place in the world of Inuit cultural production and which has, in the ten years since the release of Zacharias Kunuk’s Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (Isuma Igloolik Productions, 2002), garnered overwhelming international attention. As a complement to this issue of our magazine, in late April 2012, we will be producing a film program curated by scholar Jessica Kotierk, drawn in part from the Isuma archives; stay posted to our website for details.

— Gina Badger, with the FUSE Editorial Committee


[1] This interrelation is treated by several contributors to this issue. See, in particular, Art and Cold Cash (10–17), Durkalec (20–25), and Bathory and Hupfield (postcard insert).

[2] For more on co-ops, see Art and Cold Cash (13) and Igloliorte (31, note 2).

[3] Igloliorte’s use of the term “avant-garde” is an Indigenous reclamation of modernism’s vocabulary, a compelling tactic whose implications deserve more fulsome consideration. See Heather Igloliorte, “The Inuit of Our Imagination,” in Inuit Modern, Gerald McMaster, ed., (Toronto: Art Gallery of Ontario; Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre, 2010): 41-46.

[4] See, for instance, recent exhibitions at the Ottawa Art Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery.

[5] Dakota scholar Waziyatawin, co-editor of For Indigenous Eyes Only: A Decolonization Handbook, identifies truth-telling as an important aspect of decolonization. Listen to the two-part podcast by Healing the Earth Radio, “Talking Decolonization with Waziyatawin,” on Rabble.ca (12 October 2007 and 21 May 2008).


FUSE 35-2/NORTH can be procured from Qaggiavuut! Society for a Nunavut Performing Arts Centre (Iqaluit, NU), as well as our regular retail locations.
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