The Inuksuk (pronounced In-ook-shook) that Peter Irniq recently built in front of McNutt Hall, the home of the admissions office, carries a message for Dartmouth students. "Some Inuksuik [plural] have windows, indicating that they point to something important," Irniq says. "Through the window of this Inuksuk, students can see from the admissions office across to the place where they will one day graduate from Dartmouth. They'll be able to look at their futures and to contemplate what they might do."
Irniq, an artist and former commissioner of Nunavut, Canada, has built Inuksuik all over the world. Anywhere from 4 to 8 feet tall, the stone piles assembled in the likeness of a person have for thousands of years served the Inuit peoples as beacons, symbols of survival, and "wayfinders" through Arctic lands. Dartmouth's Inuksuk was commissioned by the Hood Museum of Art as part of the exhibition Our Land: Contemporary Art from the Arctic, the first major exhibition of contemporary art on loan from the Nunavut Government. Our Land includes sculpture, prints, textile art, photographs, and video created in the last half of the 20th century.
The territory of Nunavut was created in 1999 as a result of the largest aboriginal land claim settlement in Canadian history. It encompasses nearly one-fifth of the northernmost reaches of the Canadian Arctic, as large, Irniq says, "as Manitoba, Ontario, and Quebec." Traveling the world to build Inuksuik for museums, universities, and government agencies is one way that Irniq spreads the word about the importance of the Arctic regions, and the culture and endurance of Inuit peoples who have found ingenious ways to survive and flourish in some of the most extreme climatic conditions on earth.
"As we traveled on foot or by kayak, we built Inuksuik to mark our way," says Irniq. "They are like highway signs on the road. They tell other Inuit about patience and survival. They communicate that this place is good for fishing, for caribou hunting, or seal hunting. They point to the safest and best way home. Today, the Inuksuk also symbolizes strength, leadership, and motivation of Inuit peoples."
To many, the Inuksuk is a symbol of human spirit—a reminder that we are part of something larger than ourselves. Dartmouth, notes Irniq, is a strong community whose members hail from every corner of the earth. "Building an Inuksuk here," he says, "allows me to share my culture and connect the people of Nunavut to the rest of the world."
The Inuksuk will remain on view throughout the spring.
By SHARON REED
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Last Updated: 5/30/08