Museum Cerny and the Kuala Lumpur Connection | Polarjournal
Sculpture: Inuk with Rabbit, 1973, Steatite, H16 x W19 x D4cm
Silisi Tuki, Inukjuak, Nunavik, Canada

The first of March was the day. Finally, on the 1st of March, the cultural institutions were allowed to reopen their doors to visitors. Since October 2020, the museums in Canton Berne have been closed What happens in a museum when it’s closed? The work continues! Because what visitors see is primarily the exhibitions, which are the face of the museums seen by the outside world. For these to be shown, some preparation is required. The exhibition theme has to be defined, the relevant objects selected, sometimes restoration is necessary and texts written.

Batik: Caribous, 1973, Cotton, ink, H91 x W112cm
Annie Mikpigak, Puvirnituq, Nunavik, Canada

In mid-March, an exhibition of batiks from Nunavik, the Arctic part of the province of Quebec in eastern Canada, will open at Museum Cerny. Created in 1972 and 1973 as part of two workshops, 14 of the 15 batiks in our collection are part of the founding inventory of the museum. The uniqueness of the objects can be judged by the fact that the Textile Museum of Canada in Toronto has loaned two of them for an exhibition there. The dyeing of textiles has no tradition in the Arctic of North America, so with the workshops the participating Inuit broke new ground.

Wax applicator and Batik Dye

How confidently they mastered this can be clearly seen in the exhibition. Their instructor during the second workshop in 1973 was the Malaysian artist Chinkok Tan. He remembers that the Inuit were enormously productive and that there was an interest in continuing the work. However, this failed due to the lack of materials. And so these two workshops have remained the only ones which make these batiks so rare today.

Batik: Man blows up a Buoy (Avataq), 1973, Cotton, ink, H92 x W112cm
Nellie Nungak, Puvirnituq, Nunavik, Canada

Although the material and technology were previously unknown to the Inuit, the sculptures and prints made at the same time on paper show that the chosen design language and content are the same and represent the world of the Inuit of Nunavik. At that time, prints and sculptures had long been important as an economic factor, an important source of income. For this purpose the batik workshops were held, but (unlike other textile techniques) this technique never developed into a genre of the Inuit’s artistic creation.

Batik: Woman with Ulu and Boy with Sled, 1973, Cotton, ink, H92 x W112cm
Nellie Nungak, Puvirnituq, Nunavik, Canada

The 15 batiks in the collection are the work of 5 artists. Seven were made by Annie Mikpiga (1900-1984), who is known for her stone sculptures and prints beyond the borders of Canada. Unfortunately, little is known about the background of the pieces. The themes mainly depict domestic and hunting scenes, as opposed to prints and stone sculptures that also include mythological figures and stories.

In 2019 we obtained from the artist Chinkok Tan a finished textile and an additional one with applied wax contours, two colour packages and a wax applicator, which were used during the 1973 workshop, for our collection. They are an important addition and can also be seen in the exhibition.

To find such a treasure in a Swiss collection is surely unexpected for most readers. So it was all the more important for us to finally make them also an integral part of the exhibition.

On the Journey, 1973, Cotton, ink, H92 x W112cm
Annie Mikpigak, Puvirnituq, Nunavik, Canada

In April of this year, Museum Cerny will take part in the World Creativity & Innovation Week, which will end on April 21st, the day of World Creativity and Innovation proclaimed by the UN. We hope that the situation will allow more than just guided tours through the exhibition. And of course we are already working on follow-up exhibitions that also present the artistic wealth of the Arctic.

Martin Schultz, Museum Cerny / Translation by Martha Cerny

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