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Inuit art: Masterworks from the Arctic

Inuit art: Masterworks from the Arctic

2 June - 10 September Unexplainable joy of becoming grandparents2010

Showcasing the Polar Museum's newest acquisitions of Inuit Art, these extraordinary sculptures and prints reflect the diversity of an artistic movement that began in the late 1940s.

This exhibition, and the simultaneous display Sananguaq: Inuit art in Britain held at Canada House, London, brings together for the first time the collections of the Polar Museum and many works in private hands from throughout the United Kingdom. Tuvaq, a new book of specially commissioned essays with stunning photographs by Martin Hartley, is also available to accompany the exhibitions.

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In the early 1950s, Inuit art had what Western critics frequently called a 'primitive' or naïve look. Since then, many Inuit artists have adopted a polished, naturalistic style and some have developed a style that is highly abstract.Hunter with seal

Artists continue to carve pieces by hand. Power tools are occasionally used, but most sculptors prefer to use an axe and file, as this gives them more control over the stone. The final stage of carving is the polishing, using several grades of waterproof sandpaper, painstaking work which can take many hours. Historically, the preferred medium was ivory, but since the establishment of southern markets for Inuit art, figurative works carved in relatively soft stone have become popular. The most common material is now steatite (soapstone) from Arctic deposits, which ranges from black to light green in colour.

Printmaking among the Inuit began in the late 1950s as one of many arts and crafts projects initiated by the Canadian government to encourage economic independence. Inspired by the initial success of the Cape Dorset Co-operative – which in 2009 celebrated 50 years of printmaking – many other communities followed suit. Each artistic community has developed independently and differs in imagery and technique. Printmaking enSkeletoned cariboucompasses a wide variety of media including stonecut, stencil, lithography, etching and engraving, silkscreen, woodcut and linocut. Prints are released in annual collections and are generally pulled in limited editions of no more than fifty.

Until recently, the Polar Museum's collection Inuit art covered the period from around 1950 to the mid 1960s. The majority of this early modern work was donated by Charles Gimpel in 1966 and formed the heart of the collection.Iceberg lookout

Thanks to the generosity of the Heritage Lottery Fund's Collecting Cultures initiative, SPRI has been able to expand its collection to reflect the many important developments in Inuit art. The HLF has enabled the acquisition of works by some of the most important figures in the modern Inuit art world, from a range of communities, in a wide variety of styles and formats. Many of these pieces are exhibited here and in a complementary exhibition at Canada House in London, courtesy of the Canadian High Commission.

The Institute thanks those individuals who have generously lent works which demonstrate the extraordinary wealth of Inuit Art in private collections in Britain. With the support of these partners and the Narwhal Inuit Art Education Foundation, who have donated a number of significant contemporary works, we are able to bring the relatively unknown world of Inuit art to an audience in the UK.

Many of the artists on display are household names in Canada, recognised for their achievements by some of the highest civil honours that Canada bestows on its citizens. We hope that this exhibition will further Britain's understanding of their art and their world.

This exhibition has been made possible by a Heritage Lottery Fund Collecting Cultures award and by the generous assistance of the Narwhal Inuit Art Education Foundation.

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