The Venice Questionnaire: Isuma

The Inuit collective on bringing questions of indigeneity to the Canadian Pavilion

Production still from One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk, 2019, dir Isuma. Photo: Levi Uttak. © Isuma Distribution International

ArtReview sent a questionnaire to artists exhibiting in the various national pavilions of the 2019 Venice Biennale, the responses to which will be published daily in the lead-up to the Venice Biennale opening on 11 May.

Isuma is an artist collective led by Zacharias Kunuk and Norman Cohn and Canada’s first Inuit production company. Producer Jonathan Frantz, who curated the show in the Canadian Pavilion, answered our questionnaire on behalf of the collective. The pavilion is located in the Giardini.

What can you tell us about your exhibition plans for Venice?

We are showing three new Isuma works at the Biennale. One Day in the Life of Noah Piugattuk is a 4K digital video installation created in Inuktitut (the Inuit language) and English. It’s a feature-length production filmed on location near Kapuivik, in the Canadian high Arctic, recreating an encounter in April 1961 when Inuit communities were being forcibly relocated into government-built towns. Silakut Live From the Floe Edge is a series of live webcasts that will be broadcast from the land in north Baffin Island, with a focus on mining expansion and the legacy and impact of forced relocation. Isuma Online includes the release of Isuma on iTunes (Isuma and other indigenous-language films available on iTunes in 30 countries), and Isuma Online, featuring a complete archive of Isuma video production since 1985, more than 7,000 international indigenous videos in 75 languages, and a free exhibition catalogue with critical essays, scripts, background information and behind-the-scenes photographs available to a global audience.

Is your work transnational or rooted in the local?

Our work is mostly rooted in the concerns of the local region in the north, but it also speaks to issues that concern people around the globe, particularly indigenous peoples, like forced relocation, the fight to maintain cultural traditions and language and the struggle to keep sovereignty over land and natural resources.

How does having a pavilion in Venice make a difference to the art scene in your home country?

The Venice Biennale offers incredible exposure for us and introduces us to a global audience. It’s so great to share our work and our culture, heritage and values with people from around the world. We’re excited to share our work with new audiences in Canada as well.

If you’ve been to the biennale before, what’s your earliest or best memory from Venice?

This is the first time that Isuma has participated in the Venice Biennale, and we are thrilled to share our work with audiences here.

You’ll no doubt be very busy, but what else are you looking forward to seeing?

We’re very excited to see some of the other national pavilions and artists exhibiting here in Venice for the Biennale. And of course we are also looking forward to seeing more of this beautiful city. 

The Venice Biennale runs 11 May – 24 November 2019