Upside Down : Arctic Realities
Okvik, Old Bering Sea Female Figure with Concentric Circles, 250 BC–100 AD
Photo: David Heald
April 15, 2011– July 17, 2011
“Upside Down: Arctic Realities” is an ambitious project that presents rare and significant artifacts from the arctic region. These works, from ancient periods, ranging from 1000 BC to 1400 AD, and from major sites, including Ekven in Russia, Ipiutak in Alaska, and Old Bering Sea cultures, explore the relationship of the aesthetics of native cultures to their remote environment. Selected from international private and public collections, the objects illustrate the culture’s sensory perceptions of the landscape, spiritual and physical orientations, and perspectives on the living and imagined universe. As there is no formal distinction between utilitarian and decorative objects in Eskimo art, this show is comprised of a range of works, including everyday objects, amulets, masks, and funerary offerings. In addition, there will be a selection of ceremonial masks from the modern Yup’ik, dating from the 19th century, that represent the persistence of ancient traditions in modern times.
This exhibition is based on the ground-breaking scholarship of Dr. Edmund Carpenter who, in the 1973 publication, Eskimo Realities, distinguished Eskimo concepts of art from those of the West. He showed that Eskimo concepts of art are rooted in the creative process itself, focusing on the interaction between artist and material more than the finished product as such.
To present these works in an appropriate sensory and experiential context, visual artist Doug Wheeler has been invited to create an environment within the exhibition space. An American artist and pioneer of the Southern California “Light and Space” movement in the 1960’s, he will manipulate the exhibition’s atmospheric qualities, eliciting the vast Arctic’s extreme conditions of brightness and darkness.
Philippe Le Goff created the sound design for the exhibition. The throat-games recorded were performed by women from the Hudson Bay coast: Alasi Alasuaq, Nelly Nungaq, Alasi Tullaugak, Mary Sivuarapik, and Lucy Amarualik. The other voices tell Inuit tales and provide a variety of examples of different dialects of the Arctic. The storytellers are Palluq Inuaraq, Estralla Egede-Drouet, Elisapee Isulutak, Malaia Papatsi, and Lea Nutaraq, who was 107 years old when she was recorded, in 1991.
Curated by Edmund Carpenter and originally organized at the Musée du Quai Branly, “Upside Down: Arctic Realities,” will be presented at the Menil Collection from April 15 through July 17, 2011.
This exhibition is generously supported by Rock Foundation, Edmund Carpenter and Adelaide de Menil, and the City of Houston.