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.
Curator: Sue Rowley.