Exhibition offers rare chance to see Inuit art in Prague

'All different thoughts' by Irene Avaalaaqiaq, from book Myth and Reality

Among the numerous exhibitions currently taking place in Prague's many galleries and museums is one show which offers art-lovers an unusual opportunity to see at first-hand the art of Canada's Inuit people. Entitled Asingit, meaning Different Ones, the exhibition is being held at the renowned Naprstek Museum of Ethnic Cultures.

The exhibition features colourful paintings and large wall hangings by a number of prominent Inuit artists. Judith Nasby, the director of the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in the Canadian city of Guelph, is one of the main organisers. I spoke to Ms Nasby at the exhibition opening, and asked her first to tell me a little about its origins.

"Guelph is about 60 kilometres West of Toronto, a city of about 100,000 people, and this collection of contemporary Inuit art comes from the University of Guelph's art collection which is called the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre. These are by artists who live in the Canadian arctic. They were formally called Eskimos, many people know them by that name, but they prefer the name Inuit which means 'the people', that's how they refer to themselves."

Judith Nasby is also the author of a new book entitled 'Myth and Reality' which is based on Inuit artist Irene Avaalaaqiaq. Irene Avaalaaqiaq, who works are also on display at the exhibit, is one of Canada's most prominent Inuit artists. She currently lives in the Nunavut community of Baker Lake, which is approximately 250 kilometres south of the Arctic Circle. Her artwork is composed primarily of large wall hangings which are pictures made from fabric. She says she creates her art within the realm of storytelling and her life's experiences. I asked Judith Nasby if she could tell me a little about Irene Avaalaaqiaq's interesting history.

"Her interesting history starts with being an orphan, and living with three different families. She had a very unhappy childhood, she had to be a slave at times to beg for food during the starvation periods. What happened to the Canadian Inuit in the 1950's and 1960's they came into settlements in the Canadian arctic because of the depletion of the Caribou herds and that led to the Canadian government setting up art programs. They gave them pencils and paper and just said, go ahead and start drawing. This exhibition are some of the marvellous drawings that they produced over a 40 year period."

I also asked Judith Nasby what are some of the unusual characteristics of Inuit art and what viewers could expect to see at the exhibit.

"What is particularly interesting is the subject matter of spirit imagery, transformation, and shamonic intervention. Although the artists are all Christians the old religion continues in their consciousness and it appears in their artworks in a very powerful way. So you will see birds turning into foxes, wolves. You'll see humans transforming into animals. You'll see shamans coming out of caribou developing shamonic horns."

If your in Prague you can checkout the exhibit at the Naprstek Museum near the Old Town Square till the 27th of April. You can also get more information about the exhibit and the Naprstek museum of Asian, African, and American cultures on their website at http://www.aconet.cz/npm/