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July 08, 2023

Canadian Adventure: Inuit Art Exhibition at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

Appreciate fine art at the world’s largest collection of Québec art at the Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec.

We had read that the museum houses a reference collection of more than 38,000 works - a comprehensive overview of Québec art from the 17th century to the present day.  The artworks are comprised of contemporary, modern, historical and Inuit pieces.

We were particularly interested in seeing the Inuit works of art and had the privilege to see an Inuit and Aboriginal exhibition.

Here are photographs of some of the items we saw.  The quality of the photos is a bit degraded because I took the photos with my mobile phone and through the glass cases behind which the pieces were displayed.  However, I still think you can appreciate learning more about this fascinating culture, the traditions, and the extraordinary spirit of the artists.

Here is a sample of what we were privileged to see.                         


The above 3 photos are taken at different angles around the work of Towkie Karpic.  The artist carved a whole narwhal tusk, and on it depicts Inuit scenes of nature, people, animals, and symbols.

A narwhal is a medium-sized whale weighing between 800 and 1,600 kg (males have an average length of about 4.1 m, and females about 3.5 m). 


They have a large “tusk” which is actually a protruding canine tooth.  Although the narwhal is a threatened species, Inuit people are permitted to hunt this species legally.  The Inuit consume almost all parts of the narwhal, meat, skin, blubber, and organs. The tusk and up to 2 vertebrae per animal are used by the Inuit for tools and creating art.

In the 3 photos of the carved narwhal tusk above, try to find the following: an Inuit woman, a child, fish, reindeer, what else can you spot, how many Inuit do you see?

We were surprised and fascinated by the miniature nativity scene which marries Inuit cultural symbolism with Christianity.


Mary and Joseph are wearing typical sealskin clothing.  We see a dog team in place of desert animals.  Instead of a manger, we see a snow house or illuvigaq.  And look at the three wise men, also dressed in sealskin clothing, bearing traditional Inuit gifts.

The piece below is called: Whale Hunters


This piece by Ross Kayotak was made out of Serpentinite, caribou antler, and skin.  I just love the detail, and the sense of motion he has captured.

The next piece is called: Diving Bear.  It was crafted out of Serpentinite by Matoo Moonie Michael

The museum’s description of the piece read as follows: “Inuit have been hunting polar bears across the Arctic for centuries and have built a rich understanding about their habitat and behavior.  This breathtaking work reveals the skilled observational powers of the sculptor while demonstrating the artist’s great talent of achieving realism, balance, and movement.”

Please note, that the black piece that the polar bear appears to be clutching, is not part of the Diving Bear.  Rather, my photo captured a piece of the display right next to it.  That piece was called Two Fish. 

Two Fish was created by Iyola Kingswsiak, and was made from Slate.


The next two photos depict Emily Pangnerk Illuitok’s scene called Igloo and Bear Hunting.  The following materials were used to create this scene: Limestone, ivory, skin, sinew, caribou antler, and ink.



The next piece is a photo containing works by Silas Qayaqjuaq and it is called Throat Singers.  She used Serpentinite to create them.

The museum’s description of the pieces read as follows: “Inuit throat singing, or katajjaniq, is an art form traditionally practiced by women in which two women face each other and sing back and forth rapidly, producing a song that mimics various sounds of the Arctic.  This practice was meant as a playful competition that ends when one person starts laughing.  Throat singing has been officially recognized by Quebec as a part of the province’s intangible cultural heritage.”

Throat singing was part of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s swearing-in ceremony.  Samantha Metcalfe and Cailyn Degrandpre were subsequently nicknamed the “Ministers of Cute”.  See if you agree:

The next work of art is by Ross Kyotak, and is called Two Sednas, Goddesses of the Sea, and Fishes. It is made out of Caribou antler and Serpentinite.

The museum’s description of the pieces read as follows: “Sedna, also known as Nuliajuk, is perhaps the best known Inuit deity.  While her creation story varies across the Arctic, it is well known throughout the circumpolar world.  In all versions, she ultimately becomes the mother of all sea creatures, thus making her a very powerful and well-respected goddess.”

Unfortunately, I do not have notes on the next two photos of Inuit carvings.  Nonetheless, their sheer beauty in depicting everyday life above and below the ice is a fascinating study.

The final series of photos are of a carved walrus skull by Luke Airut.  The museum’s description read: “From every viewpoint, this complex walrus skull sculpture tells a story: a polar bear stalks its prey down to one ivory tusk while a dog team races along with the other; igloos, bears, camp scenes, faces, and marine mammals wind around the skull; and a new narrative emerges from each new perspective.”


The exhibit was truly breathtaking.  We found it so fascinating, how despite the difficulty and harshness of life in the arctic, that these Inuit artists were able to capture the vast beauty of their daily lives.

Thank you for letting me share this experience with you.


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  1. MAGNIFIQUE....merci beaucoup à vous de nous montrer d'aussi belles choses et pour nous faire voyager depuis chez me tarde de pouvoir y aller.

    1. Ce musée est vraiment magnifique. Nous prévoyons certainement de revenir pour découvrir plus de ses trésors.

      This museum is truly magnificent. We are definitely planning to go back to discover more of its treasures.


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