The Winnipeg Art Gallery announced last week that an exhibition of Inuit landscape art will be on display beginning on May 10, 2008.

Inuit artists started producing art work for sale to markets in the south after the late 1940s, when they moved off the land and into permanent settlements. They needed to find sources of cash income. While many of their works have presented the landscape as background for other subjects, some artists are exploring relationships with the land itself through their art. Those explorations are the theme of this exhibit.

The community of Cape Dorset pioneered in limited-edition prints in 1957, and the first publication of prints there was in 1959. Using stonecut techniques, the artists produced prints of black figures, like silhouettes on white backgrounds. The tradition of rolling ink onto flat white surfaces may have encouraged their focus on animal and human subjects. The artists began making copper engravings in 1962, though still retaining a primary focus on animal and human subjects.

By the mid 1970s, Inuit artists began using lithography to produce more colorful prints, based on drawings the artists usually made with colored pencils. Artists from Baker Lake such as Janet Kigusiuq and Simon Tookoome produced semi-abstract drawings, some of which are reminiscent of bird’s eye views of the landscape, with high, undulating perspectives of the land and animals.

Another artist from Baker Lake, Ruth Qaulluaryuk, produces personal interpretations of the tundra. Her work may show the snow and sky of winter, tiny spring wildflowers, and the colorful mosses and lichens covering the rocks of summer.

The exhibition announcement indicates that younger artists today are increasingly viewing the landscape as a fit subject in its own right for interpretation, in contrast to artists of the previous generation who saw the land primarily as a source of food. For instance, Shuvinai Ashoona, a Cape Dorset artist, does not necessarily see the land only as nature. She portrays it in surreal ways that reflect her imagination and her own perspectives.

These evolving interpretations will be on view in the gallery through September 1, 2008.