Carleton University Art Gallery CUAG

In the Hands of Women: Inuit Uluiit and Qulliit

Curated by Mary-Louise Davis

09 May – 22 August 2010

An ulu is an Inuit woman’s crescent-shaped, multipurpose knife. The qulliq is the traditional Inuit oil lamp. These objects are the tools of women, who have used them to provide for their families for hundreds of years.

A powerful sign of prosperity, security and home, the flames of the qulliq provided warmth and light, hot water and dry clothing. An ulu is used to divide and clean meat, to clean and sew skins and to make clothing, bedding and blankets. The knives symbolize sharing, collaboration and interdependence, which are important Inuit values. Uluiit and qulliit also reveal patterns of use, trading relationships and traditions of production that provide valuable cultural information.

In the Hands of Women presents historic examples of uluiit and qulliit from the collections of the Carleton University Art Gallery and the Canadian Museum of Civilization. Such tools have been represented by artists in the past, and they continue to serve as important subject matter in contemporary work.  The exhibition includes David Ruben Piqtoukun’s Sharing the Good Food (1999), an evocative sculpture of the ulu as a symbol of generosity and hospitality. A Napachie Pootoogook print, Mother and Child with Fish demonstrates the importance of the ulu in transmitting cultural knowledge across generations. In her 1969 print The Two Sisters, Agnes Nanogak presents the qulliq as an emblem of home. 

Other artists represented in the exhibition include Helen Kalvak, Shuvinai Ashoona, Syollie Amituk, Myra Kukiiyaut, Jessie Oonark, Abraham POV, and Sheojuk Etidlooie. Ultimately, these artists’ representations of uluiit and qulliit disseminate fundamental cultural knowledge, which upholds and informs the worldviews of Inuit across Canada. Contemporary artists thus honour past traditions and values while celebrating their continuity and vitality in the present.

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