Arts

The Stonecroft Lecture takes place at the National Gallery of Canada. Photo: Tullia/CC

Isuma are first Inuit artists to represent Canada at prestigious Venice Biennale

This year’s Stonecroft Lecture at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) will feature Inuit video production company Isuma, who represents Canada this year at the Venice Biennale, the largest contemporary art exhibition in the world.

Isuma is screening their feature film One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk at the Biennale, which will be presented at the annual Stonecroft Lecture along with an artist talk.

Every year, the department of visual arts at the University of Ottawa, in collaboration with the NGC, hosts the Stonecroft Lecture, bringing together artists, academics and curators to critically discuss a prominent artist in Canada. The lecture series is funded by the Stonecroft Foundation.

Isuma is Canada’s first Inuit production company, headquartered in Igloolik, Nunavut. They produced the first feature film to ever be written, directed, and acted entirely in Inuktitut, Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, and have produced television series and movies since 1990. IsumaTV, a website for Indigenous media, hosts over 7,850 videos in 71 languages. 

“They have produced many feature films that are Inuit, the actors are Inuk, and they speak the language as well,” said Jinny Yu, a professor of painting in the visual arts department.

The department maintains close ties with arts institutions in the city, including the NGC and Ottawa Art Gallery. Many curators also work at the U of O, so when the lecture series was first proposed five years ago, the NGC was a natural choice. 

“We do collaborate with a lot of institutions throughout the city and the National Gallery has always been one of the major ones,” said Yu. “Some of the curators there are adjunct professors, and the director of the Ottawa Art Gallery is also an adjunct professor. We always have an ongoing collaboration with many institutions here in Ottawa.”

Isuma are the first Inuit artists to represent Canada at the Biennale, but they are also groundbreaking simply for being filmmakers. The Biennale tends to exhibit visual rather than media art, but Yu said the film was well-received. 

“Putting a feature film in the Biennale is unusual,” said Yu. “In the sense of decolonizing Canada and the art world, I thought that gesture of not following the rule was very nice.”

This is the third time the Stonecroft Lecture has featured the artist representing Canada in the Biennale. This year’s event will feature a screening of Isuma’s film followed by an onstage discussion with the film’s executive producer Lucy Tulugarjuk and curator Asinnajaq, moderated by the NGC’s associate curator of Indigenous art Christine Lalonde.

The Stonecroft Foundation also offers funding for one MFA student to intern at the Canada Gallery during the Biennale and take an intensive field course that Yu designs herself.

Yu stressed that the event is open and free to the public, making it an excellent evening for touring the gallery and then coming to the lecture to see some of the best artists working in Canada. 

The Stonecroft Lecture featuring Isuma takes place at the National Gallery of Canada on Thursday, starting at 6 p.m. Admission is free to both the lecture and gallery.