As with many historical art collections, there are works in the WAG-Qaumajuq permanent collection that have titles with words which are inappropriate in today’s context. Through this initiative, 57 artworks, some belonging to the Government of Nunavut, were identified and researched to determine which Indigenous nation is depicted. A representative from the identified nation was then engaged to rename the selected artwork. Some Knowledge Keepers opted to rename the works in ceremony.
“This type of initiative has never been done before at a major art institution and I’m very proud that WAG-Qaumajuq has taken the bold move of addressing the issue of problematic titles by inviting Indigenous knowledge into the heart of the institution—our collection,” says Julia Lafreniere, Head of Indigenous Initiatives at WAG-Qaumajuq.
This renaming initiative will leave a significant impact on the canon of art history. By allowing Indigenous Knowledge Keepers to rename these works, WAG–Qaumajuq is rewriting the future of that artwork and inviting Indigenous worldviews into its collection history permanently. Historically, Indigenous knowledge has not been a part of art institutions, and WAG–Qaumajuq hopes this is a small step towards transforming museological practices moving forward.
“Too often in Canadian history we are unnamed or numbered, and it was a powerful moment to watch Indigenous relatives depicted in these artworks receive a proper name,” says Lafreniere. “My hope is that other art galleries in Canada will take note and follow suit.”
The gallery is grateful to the Indigenous Elders and Knowledge Keepers for their work on this project: Wanbdi Wakita, Pahan Pte San Win, Victor Tssessaze, Brett Huson and Martha Peet.
This project is part of the larger initiative to decolonize the WAG collection, which includes a repatriation policy and regular ceremonial care led by Indigenous Ceremonial Leaders.