Canada’s Northern Art

4 07 2009

“Behind the glass display, tiny intricate figurines will bedazzle your eyes as the naked eye closely watch how such micro statues were made with such details.”



Eskimoan people arrived in the Canadian Arctic between 5,000 and 8,000 years ago,” reads the board that hangs on the wall where a display of tiny artefacts made from ivory, stone, antlers, and sinews are showcased. It reminds us that in a way, every one of us originates from somewhere yet we all come together in the Great White North where everyone co-exists together as a country filled with culture. Tiny replicas of igloos and gameboards sits beside each other behind the glass display while at the corner of one’s eye, a Nanuk’s (polar bear in Inuktikut) fur hangs on the other side of the musem. Tucked away on the southwest side of Queen’s Quay Terminal lies the Museum of Inuit Art where artefacts, sculptures, ceramics and art displays are showcased. It opened about a year and a half to two ago, MIA is devoted exclusively to Inuit art and culture.

Behind the glass display, tiny intricate figurines will bedazzle your eyes as the naked eye closely watch how such micro statues are made with such details. Colours of pigment are commonly used for a dimensional look, though sometimes the colouring are caused by aging when the figurine is made from ivory. Ivory is made from the tusks of Walrus or Narwhal and is common to be found in Inuit Art. The artist will sand the tusk to a size so small and micro that sometimes it takes awhile until you get the big pucture. “Sometimes, they’d have a contest up North, where they’d make things like these and the smaller they are the better,” says Jane, of the people who maintains the museum. Across from these tiny figurines, a few pieces will intrigue a person, Jane explains that these are replicas of an Inuit game called Cribbage, a difficult and somewhat confusing type of European card game. Entering the next room, a large sculpture made of whalebone, ivory, clay, stone and inlay greets the visitor, a composition made by Manasie Akpaliapik where his works are based on Inuit myths, songs and stories that reflect concern with balance between the earth and life that is necessary for us to survive.

Mother and Child is one of the most important themes in Inuit Art and the museum showcases a broad of style and fashion of them. A typical sculpture of an Inuit mother and child is where the mother holds her baby inside her Aumak. Aumak is a parka with oversized hood a mother wears devised to keep the infants safe from harsh weather conditions. Sometimes, the infant will just pop its head out of the Aumak or sometimes its full body can be seen held between her mother’s arms.

The prized collection of micro figurines are followed through the next room which exhibits artifacts that will literally take the breath away of any visitors to the museum. These objects can size up smaller than a grain of rice but the details on them reflects the hardwork the artist has put upon it. This itself, is worth the trip to the MIA.

A collection of Contemporary Arts displays right before entering the Gallery. Contemporary Inuit Art starts as early as 1970s as an attempt to straddle Inuit culture and that of other people. Shaman in Flight by David Ruben Piqtoukun is an excellent example where not only he uses stone, inlay and wood (typical mediums for Inuit Art) but also steel, a typical modern art medium. The Museum also showcases other forms and mediums such as ivory carvings, Puvirnituq (stone printmaking), tapestries (the Tapestry section is under construction at the moment), Ceramic Arts, and a room where you can listen to the hums of Inuit songs and hymns. (Call for any information on any of their current Exhibitions)



Sometimes, they’d have a contest up North, where they’d make things like these and the smaller they are the better,”

 The Gallery has a collection of more then 300 pots, stone carvings, and ivory figurines. Curate by Ingo Hessel, the collection has been growing since its inauguration and certainly adds the charm to the beautiful site of Harbourfront. Unlike most museums in Toronto, a visit to the Museum of Inuit Art is one of its kind and authentic to its experience in learning the lives of the true North Canadians.

Canada’s growing influx in immigration especially in Toronto infuses the melting pot of our culture. We as a society acknowledges culture from all over the world; from Chinese to Indian, Native Africans to Pacific Islanders, European to South American – but we fail to notice background of the Inuits of Northern Canada. Canada’s Inuits have been around longer than any Immigrants to Canada yet there is still the struggle for people to understand and appreciate the Inuit people. Walking out of the Museum of Inuit Art and Gallery gives a new perception of the cultures that these amazing group of people have contributed to Canada since thousands of years ago – and still counting.





all photos taken by me with the permission from

Museum of Inuit Art and Gallery 207 Queen’s Quay West

Admission Adults $6, Students & Seniors $5, Children under five Free

hours of Operation: Daily 10-6

How to get there: From Union Station, take the 509 and get off at Queen’s Quay Terminal, from Spadina Station take the 510 Streetcar and get off at Queen’s Quay Terminal




2 responses

7 07 2009


14 02 2010

Hi~ I am jung~
I am a korean high school student who also has a blog to provide more information and tips about Korea~
Wow~ Your blog looks great with all these nice photos and full of information~
All those photos really do show a unique side of art ^_^

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