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U-M Museum of Art showcases recently donated collection of Inuit art in new exhibition

Yo-Yo Ma addressed nearly 3,000 people at Hill Auditorium during a presentation that was part of a two-day visit to the University Musical Society. Photo by Eric Bronson, Michigan Photography.

ANN ARBOR—For more than 65 years, Philip and Kathy Power have been instrumental in building awareness and appreciation for Inuit art in the U.S.

To both honor their work and inaugurate the new Power Family Program for Inuit Art, the University of Michigan Museum of Art will present “Tillirnanngittuq” March 16-Oct. 6, which showcases 58 works from their collection of more than 200 sculptures and prints that they gifted to UMMA in 2018.

“This program represents an exciting new direction for UMMA,” said UMMA director Christina Olsen. “Tillirnanngittuq is the first of many exhibitions, programs and research efforts that will explore Inuit and Canadian Arctic art’s historic impact and contemporary concerns.”

Innuki Oqutaq, Incised Antler, Cape Dorset, ca.
1954, antler and stone. Promised gift of Philip and
Kathy Power. © Dorset Fine Arts. Photography:
Charlie Edwards

Tillirnanngittuq, pronounced “tid-ee-nang-ee-took,” means “unexpected” in the Inuktitut language. According to co-curator Marion (Mame) Jackson, the word is also used to reference contemporary Inuit art.

“Tillirnanngittuq refers to the astonishing outpouring of Inuit art since the 1950s—a truly amazing story,” said Jackson, a U-M alumna and professor emerita at U-M and Wayne State University. “Neither the Inuit artists nor those who worked with them in the early years could have foreseen the worldwide acclaim Inuit art would achieve.”

Most of the works on view are from the 1950s and 60s—the earliest years in the development of carvings and prints by the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic.

The exhibition will feature innovative stonecut and stencil prints, and exquisite stone, bone and ivory sculptures of arctic animals based on the artists’ life experience as traditional hunters, attentive in their observation and understanding of the animals in their environment.

“Slightly abstracted, this art possesses great character and vitality, elegance of line and form,” Jackson said. “The artists illustrate not only reality from nature—such as how polar animals move—but also inventive design choices as they multiply, overlap and interweave natural forms.”

Among the renowned Inuit artists featured are Kenojuak Ashevak, Lucy Qinnuayuak, Niviaksiak, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kananginak Pootoogook and Johnny Inukpuk.

The exhibition was curated by Jackson in collaboration with Canadian Inuit art specialist Pat Feheley, whose Feheley Fine Arts gallery in Toronto is devoted exclusively to traditional and contemporary art from the Canadian Arctic.

Jackson, Feheley and Philip Power will participate in a March 16 panel discussion moderated by Vera Grant, UMMA Deputy Director for Curatorial Affairs and Curator of Modern and Contemporary Art. Other related events will also take place that day, including a film screening, exhibition tours, a family art studio project and a children’s storytime.

The Power Family Program for Inuit Art, which is dedicated to fostering the study and appreciation of Inuit Art, was established in 2018 by Philip and Kathy Power through the promised gift of their extraordinary Inuit art collection and a $2 million endowment.


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