Reimagining Nanuq: The Case of the Peculiar Polar Bear

September 12, 2016

Calling all artists! iNuit Blanche wants you to participate in an exciting exhibition happening the night of October 8th in St. John’s, NL. The all-night, all-Inuit festival is inviting artist of all kinds, whether they can make it to the 2016 Inuit Studies Conference or not. Reimagining Nanuq: The Polar Bear Postcard Exchange will send hundreds of polar bear postcards across the North and beyond for artists to reinterpret and reimagine any way they want.

“We have the postcards printed and we’ll send them to anyone who wants one,” says iNuit Blanche co-curator Britt Gallpen, “all you have to do is put your name and information on the back and then take the front of the post card and do whatever you want to it, paint on it, draw on it, collage, bead, glitter, whatever, and then mail it back to us and we’ll put them all up at iNuit Blanche for that one night, and then you’ll get a different work of art in return.”

The organizing team at iNuit Blanche first had the idea after looking at a series of what Europeans imagined polar bears to look like in the 19th Century. At the time not many artists living in Europe had ever seen a polar bear in real life and had to rely on stories from Arctic explorers, books, magazines, or – if they were lucky – had a chance to look at a polar bear rug up close. The result, some very ‘interesting’ imagery! Sometimes their depictions of bears would be too skinny, the bears might resemble giant weasels or mountain lions, the bears might be set in strange backgrounds like the jungle, or depicted on a boat. To our modern eyes these pictures seem kind of nonsensical.

Organizer, Hannah Morgan, who is an assistant curator for iNuit Blanche, has collected this series of peculiar polar bears and is sending them out across the circumpolar North with participating artists and groups in Alaska, Labrador, Winnipeg, Montreal, and Nunavik.

After October 8th, when iNuit Blanche wraps up, the cards will be gathered up, and mailed back - not to their original artists, but to someone else who participated in the project. Hannah adds that it is important to place the postcards in an envelope before mailing so that they will arrive undamaged. Artworks can be mailed back or brought to the conference, where they will be collected and then displayed on Saturday night.

“It’s fun, I like the idea we’re doing an exchange with people in different artistic expressions,” says Camille Usher, who participated in the first Reimagining Nanuq session in Montreal, “I like how it adds a whole other type of conversation about how the animal was originally depicted and how we can now make it different and add our own stories that can really change the polar bear.”

The postcards will be on display the evening of Saturday October 8th, as part of iNuit Blanche and can be found at 72 Harbour Drive, St. John’s, NL in the Level 2 stairwell (please note this space is not accessible for people in wheelchairs or limited mobility).

To learn more, request postcards, and to participate in the exchange visit the iNuit Blanche website.