December 15, 2017 - National Gallery of Canada - Artist collective Isuma to represent Canada at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019
December 15, 2017

National Gallery of Canada

Left to right, Norman Cohn, Pauloosie Qulitalik, Lizzie Qulitalik, Mary Qulitalik, Rachel Uyarashuk, Jonah Uyarashuk, Zacharias Kunuk, on the set of Nunaqpa (Going Inland), 1990.

Artist collective Isuma to represent Canada at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019

The National Gallery of Canada announced this week that the artist collective Isuma, led by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn, will represent Canada at the 58th Venice Biennale in 2019.

Isuma, meaning “to think, or a state of thoughtfulness” in Inuktitut, is Canada’s first Inuit video-based production company. It was co-founded in 1990 by Kunuk, Cohn, Paul Apak Angilirq (1954–98), and Pauloosie Qulitalik (1939–2012) to preserve Inuit culture and language and to present Inuit stories to Inuit and non-Inuit audiences around the world.

“Since the mid-1990s the Isuma collective has been challenging stereotypes about ways of life in the North and breaking boundaries in video art, including the first video-based feature to win a major film award at the prestigious Cannes film festival,” said National Gallery of Canada Director and CEO, Marc Mayer.  “Isuma's participation in Venice also marks the first presentation of art by Inuit in the Canada Pavilion. I am convinced that the international art world will be inspired by the insights that Kunuk and Cohn's collaborative work will elicit at the next Venice Biennale.”

Isuma’s ground-breaking features, documentaries and television series have been screened at major film festivals around the world and represented in important art institutions including the National Gallery of Canada. Works such as Atanarjuat The Fast Runner, not only feature Indigenous languages—principally Inuktitut—and producers, directors, actors and writers, they also uniquely reconstruct traditions and stories.

“Since we have an oral history, nothing is written down—everything is taught by what you see,” said Zacharias Kunuk. “Your father's fixing up the harpoon; you watch how he does it and you learn from it. I am trying to do this with my videos—tell the story behind how we lived.”

“Isuma’s style of community-based filmmaking merged early activist video with ancient values of collective survival,” noted Norman Cohn. “Collective survival depends on the art of working together for a common purpose, of putting the group before the individual. We hope to represent that view of video art in Venice in 2019.”

Isuma was selected by a national committee of experts in contemporary Canadian art comprised of: Naomi Potter, Director and Curator, Esker Foundation; Matthew Hyland, Director, Oakville Galleries; Candice Hopkins, curator and writer; Josée Drouin-Brisebois, Senior Curator of Contemporary Art, National Gallery of Canada; and Marc Mayer, Director and CEO of the National Gallery of Canada. The curator for the project, who will be selected by the artists, will be announced in 2018.

The Venice Biennale is among the most prestigious contemporary art events in the world, and the only international visual arts exhibition to which Canada sends official representation. Exhibitions for the Venice Biennale are commissioned by the National Gallery of Canada and produced in partnership with the Canada Council for the Arts. The Canadian representation in 2019 is made possible through the generous financial support of Presenting Sponsor Royal Bank of Canada, and through the National Gallery of Canada Foundation. The 58th Venice Biennale takes place from May to November 2019.

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North America press contact:
Josée-Britanie Mallet, Senior Media and Public Relations Officer, National Gallery of Canada
T 613 990 6835 / T 613 355 3989 / bmallet [​at​]

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