Esker Foundation presents their spring/summer exhibition season – featuring Indigenous artists and filmmakers from the circumpolar world

Story by Jenessa Blanchet
Photos provided by Esker Foundation

On making your way through the spring/summer exhibitions, Among All These Tundras and CHANNEL 51: IGLOOLIK, at the Esker Foundation, viewers are immediately immersed in a juxtaposition of historical tradition and contemporary artistic forms.  

This carefully orchestrated, elegiacally curated experience not only brings our awareness to the social, environmental, political and cultural challenges facing the peoples of the circumpolar world, but also appears to test our notions of tradition itself. 

There is subtle tension in these works; an eclectic combination of film, photography, installation, and performance art. Joy intermingling with grief, humour mixed with indignation, exposure holding hands with the sacred. 

And while the undertone of everything you will see is rooted in the critical subject matter each artist addresses, there also appears to be a delicate question floating in the air: can tradition adapt?

As said by participating artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs, whose stunning, translucent drawings represent our minute and monumental secrets, “Tradition is something we are creating every day.”

The difficultly lies within ascertaining whether or not tradition is being adapted as a result of evolution or necessity.  With the serious consequences of colonization of northern lands, industrial encroachment and massive environmental and political alterations – how could it not come to pass that tradition would be either forcefully or willingly transformed?

One artist has created a traditional sled out of non-traditional, found materials. Another has carved non-traditional, modern day items out of traditional stone. Photographs of traditional food preparation are displayed with modern products and goods creeping in at the corners. More examples of the contrast between the historic and the present are displayed throughout the artwork and exhibitions.

From modern twists on photography, videography, use of archival footage in contemporary ways, weaving in of traditional and non-traditional materials, and the use of language in collaborative performance, these artists are not simply making a statement about how their heritage is being impacted by the modern world, but are taking an active role in shaping how that heritage is celebrated now and into an uncertain future. They are adapting without submitting. They are doing everything in their power to protect the legacy of their peoples while raising awareness through an elevated, current expression of their cultural norms.

And this exploration of the boundaries of tradition leads us into the examination of what other boundaries are being tested here. The positioning of the exhibition work alludes to the contemplation of a varied cross section of boundaries: cultural, geographical, physical, political, environmental and so forth.  The work alternates between being unframed, suspended, exposed, or encapsulated – some with boundaries others without. 

These exhibitions will inspire you to contemplate our preconceived notions of traditions, of boundaries and of the challenges facing the indigenous peoples of the circumpolar world.

Esker’s Spring/Summer exhibitions Among All These Tundras and CHANNEL 51: IGLOOLIK run until Aug. 30, and, running in the Project Space, until July 21 is Occlusion Field. Admission to Esker Foundation is free.