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This Winnipeg Art Gallery is a monument to Inuit culture

Qaumajuq is more than just an art gallery or a stylish architectural feat. Not only that.

It is impossible to divorce Kaumajuk from the history of Canada itself. The $ 55 million, 36,000-square-foot addition to the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG) opened in March 2021 and houses the museum’s 14,000 permanent Inuit art works and an additional 8,000 long-term loans. It is currently the world’s largest public collection of Inuit art and is a sign of reconciliation reflected in the Inuktitut name. “KOW-mah-yourk” It means “bright, bright”.

The task of finding a house in the collection began 70 years before the gallery began to acquire sculptures. “WAG is 110 years old,” said Stephen Borys, director and CEO of Qaumajuq. “Can the colonial system really be decolonized? It’s controversial, but you can bring an essential voice to the table.”

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Los Angeles-based architect Michael Martzan, who designed the gallery, was inspired by a 2013 research trip to Baffin Island led by Darlene Coward Wight, a longtime curator of WAG’s Inuit art. Attached to the exterior of Kaumajuk is an undulating structure reminiscent of the icebergs of the Cumberland Sound that Martzan saw during his voyage. “The main question when I came back was how to make an estimate of the size of the place where the art is made,” he says.
The design team chose Vermont’s Bethel White Granite for the upper two-thirds of the Kaumajuk façade and glazed the first 20 feet around the building. This is in contrast to the windowless modernist look of WAG. The glass also gives visitors a quick glimpse of the Visible Vault, which stops the show, a three-story curved structure displaying nearly 5,000 stone and bone sculptures.

The space within Qaumajuq has its own Inuktitut name. Jocelyn Piirainen, Associate Curator of the Museum’s Inuit Art, worked with WAG’s Indigenous Advisory Circle, Inuit Elders, and Language Administrators during the naming process. “The entrance hall is called Ilavut and means” our relatives, “” says Inuit himself, Piirainen.

Members of the Inuit community received an early preview of the WAG collection. This space is a place where the art of their hometown of the North is protected and celebrated. “It was great to see them discover that their family’s work is included in our collection,” says Piirainen. “Hopefully they will inspire them to make their own.”


Qilak is an 8,000-square-foot gallery named for “sky” in Inuktitut. There are 22 huge skylights there. It’s one of the many ways Maltzan brought it out. Each is 12 feet in diameter and 16 feet high, and the light inside is subtly variable by the passing clouds.

Visible Vault

The glass vault has 492 shelves and displays sculptures from more than 1,000 artists and 31 northern communities. Its three-story structure has two above ground and one underground, with bone and antlers carvings protected from harmful light. Preservatives, curators and researchers working on their elements.


The façade of Qaumajuq was inspired by the icebergs of Cumberland Sound.

Skeleton Caribou (1974)

This work William Noah, a graphic artist from Baker Lake in Nunavut, is a recent part of Kaumajuk. INUA Exhibition.

Related: To my mother: “It’s still strange for us two that the house is now a different place.”

Michael Martzan

Maltzan is the founder and chief architect of the Los Angeles-based company Michael Maltzan Architecture. His other notable projects include LA’s Star Apartments Complex and New York’s MoMAQNS.

This article was printed in the June 2022 issue. McLeans A magazine with the heading “If you get there”.Subscribe to monthly print magazines Here..

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This Winnipeg Art Gallery is a monument to Inuit culture

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