Inuit Art: Constructing the Authentic View Part 6

Authenticity and Inuit Art

External forces such as the Canadian government and cultural institutions, the contemporary art paradigm or the art market have played an extremely decisive role in the development of Inuit Art and consequently, how Inuit identity is presented. By focussing on perceptions of authenticity, this dissertation has expressed the significance of the colonial condition, its impact on the culture of Inuit Art and the developments taking place in recent times. It also aims to make a broader statement on the dominance of Western centrality of art and how that affects non-Western presence within this paradigm.

It has taken over half a century for Inuit to take back control of their narrative and how the notion of authenticity has been a key component of its development. The popularising of romanticised themes in the early days of Inuit Art production has created a concept of authenticity, so central to the identity it affirms, that it pushed away other representations of identity seen by later artists beyond the market’s presumptions. This is a fundamental reason why the social realist trends introduced by the likes of Kananginak Pootoogook were slow to be acknowledged by the market.

What is evident, through this dissertation, is that authenticity is not defined by tradition and the distant past but rather fostered by the lived experiences of artists, where authenticity resides within the individual. Non-Inuit views of Inuit Art should not accept a fixed definition of authenticity because that ignores the narratives written by the community. Inuit today are engaging more in the definition of their identity and expressing their traditional culture through new mediums. Nevertheless, their art remains subject to the colonial condition.

Inuit Art within the contemporary period has transcended from a means of economic survival towards a means of cultural survival and have taken control of their narrative and promotion of Inuit Art. However, what this dissertation highlights, is that neo-colonialism, and the effects of modernity have become part of the canon of their art history. Though it is understood that the social and culturally relevant works being conducted today practice individualism, they can still be seen as subtle responses to colonial history. Furthermore, the continuation of a tourist art market for mass produced goods, dilutes the integrity that Inuit ‘fine art’ is trying to communicate.

The need to define authenticity whether to maintain the illusion of a distant past or promoting the socially relevant present has undoubtedly impacted the creative output of Inuit Artists. Thus, deeply rooted assumptions about authentic Inuit Art has plagued its perception in the contemporary art scene. Inuit Art will always be subject to authenticity claims as long as the Art market continues to look through a colonial lens. In communities across the Nunavut, Inuit are taking the lead in developing and preserving Inuit cultural traditions, presenting them through the medium of art through their narrative.  However, it is only when audiences outside of the Inuit context begin to view works without any images of a predetermined cultural authenticity, that Inuit Art will enter a truly post-colonial context.

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