Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration

This exhibition features exquisite and extraordinarily rare prints from Japan and Cape Dorset, Nunavut, from the late 1950s and early 1960s. It also tells the little-known story of how, fifty years ago, the Canadian artist and “discoverer” of Inuit art, James Houston, travelled to Japan to study printmaking with Un’ichi Hiratsuka.

An esteemed Japanese printmaker, teacher and champion of Japan’s “Creative Print” Movement (sōsaku hanga), Hiratsuka taught Houston a variety of direct transfer print techniques. With Japanese prints and tools in hand, Houston returned to the Canadian Arctic and resumed work alongside the five original Inuit printmakers — Osuitok Ipeelee, Iyola Kingwatsiak, Lukta Qiatsuk, Kananginak Pootoogook and Eegyvudluk Pootoogook.  Their studio produced its first annual collection and released it to the public in January 1960. Since then, art collectors around the world have been continually surprised by Cape Dorset’s fresh, imaginative and original artworks on paper.  It is an incomparable artistic legacy in Canada.

Inuit Prints: James Houston, Un’ichi Hiratsuka and the Inuit Print Tradition is the first systematic inquiry into the Japanese influences on the early years of the Cape Dorset print studio. By juxtaposing the earliest Cape Dorset prints with the actual Japanese prints that inspired the Inuit printmakers in 1959, the exhibition examines the many ways in which the Cape Dorset artists creatively “localized” Japanese influences. This exhibition tells a much different story than is commonly associated with Inuit art, which is a romantic story about faraway people living in an enclaved, remote world. The complex connectivity that unites Japanese and Inuit printmakers through the intermediary work of James Houston is a story about globalization, cultural translation, travel and modernity — characteristics that define our present age.


Also Showing in the Audain Gallery: A UBC Exhibit

Faces and Voices of the Inuit Art Market
A sculpture is more than carved stone and a print is more than coloured paper. Many people have played a role in the life of a work of art: from the artist, to the dealers, collectors, purchasers, auctioneers, and curators. Through their connections and points of contact, these people create the Inuit Art Market. How does Inuit art move through the art market? How is authenticity determined? Who decides what is valued? This exhibit, curated

by UBC students, invites you to explore these questions and discover the many faces and voices of the Inuit art market. (This exhibit is shown in conjunction with Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration – James Houston, Un’ichi Hiratsuka and the Inuit Print Tradition, also shown in The Audain Gallery.)

Exhibition Title

Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration


Exhibition organized by the Canadian Museum of Civilization with the assistance of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset.


June 19 – September 25, 2011