In 1959, the small community of Cape Dorset in the Canadian Arctic was introduced to the ancient traditions of Japanese printmaking by James Houston, a Canadian artist who studied in Japan with Un’ichi Hiratsuka, one of the world’s leading masters of the art.
Upon his return to the Arctic, Houston shared his knowledge and his collection of Japanese prints with the fledgling printmakers of Cape Dorset. The art of Inuit printmaking flourished, becoming a major source of income for the Inuit.
The Embassy of Canada in Tokyo proudly hosted an opening ceremony, a preview and a reception of the exhibition “Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration”.
The exhibition, produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, celebrates the birth of Inuit printmaking more than fifty years ago, and its little-known connection to Japan.
Over 120 guests attended the event, including Dr. Victor Rabinovitch, President and CEO of the Canadian Museum of Civilization, Mr. Qiatsuq Niviaqsi and Mr. Cee Pootoogook, Inuit printmakers from Cape Dorset, and Mrs. Alice Houston.
Well-known for her intimate knowledge of Inuit culture and art, HIH Princess Takamado was given a guided tour of the exhibition by Ambassador Jonathan T. Fried, Dr. Rabinovitch, and Dr. Norman Vorano, Curator of Contemporary Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization.
The exhibition comprises original works of art, including some of the rarest and earliest Cape Dorset prints and the actual Japanese prints that were brought to Cape Dorset in 1959, inspiring the Inuit artists.
This exhibition tells a much different story than the one 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 is a story about globalization, cultural translation, travel and modernity — characteristics that define our present age.
By juxtaposing Canadian and Japanese works, the exhibition tells a remarkable story of creativity, invention, cultural sharing and adaptation.
Among the many highlights are rare Inuit stonecut rubbings, powerful black-and-white stonecut prints created by Inuit artists who were inspired by Hiratsuka, and stencil prints created by Inuit artists inspired by the Japanese kappazuri technique.
The exhibition also features a display of a stonecut print block and early printmaking tools that Cape Dorset artists created and used in the late 1950s, modeling them after the Japanese tools Houston introduced to the community.
Due to significant media coverage, the Embassy has been experiencing a very high number of visitors to the exhibition, most of whom are being exposed to Inuit prints and art for the first time. Many have been deeply moved by the artistic expressions of the Inuit people and the exhibition itself. A Japanese paper exporter and a curator have expressed interest in bringing the exhibition back to Japan in the future.
The exhibition ends March 15.