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Drawing and sculpture exhibition ‘Earthlings’ ends tour at Nanaimo Art Gallery

Collection of works by mostly Nunavut artists makes lone B.C. appearance in Nanaimo
Curator Shauna Thompson of the Esker Foundation gallery in Calgary oversaw the installation of Earthlings at the Nanaimo Art Gallery. (Josef Jacobson/The News Bulletin)

An exhibition of dozens of collaborative drawings and sculptures that has appeared in three of Canada’s largest cities is ending its run in Nanaimo.

The show, called Earthlings, was conceived and curated by Toronto artist Shary Boyle and features work by her and six Nunavut artists: Roger Aksadjuak, Pierre Aupilardjuk, John Kurok and Leo Napayok from Rankin Inlet, Shuvinai Ashoona from Cape Dorset and Jessie Kenalogak of Baker Lake.

Naomi Potter, director of Calgary’s Esker Foundation gallery, the institution taking the show on the road, describes the works as speaking to the interdependency ad permeability of the human and animal worlds, as many of the works depict uncanny human-animal hybrids.

Potter said she was unfamiliar with the ceramic work coming out of Rankin Inlet and was “blown away” by the artists. She said subarctic Canadians are missing out.

“It’s really wonderful when you’re confronted with things that you don’t know,” she said.

“And for me this was about confronting something that I had no idea existed and was absolutely so magical and wonderful and I think that that’s been a lot of the response. People just being like, ‘Where has this stuff been?’”

The full show debuted at Esker at the beginning of 2017 and smaller versions have since been exhibited at the Doris McCarthy gallery in Toronto and the UQAM gallery in Montreal. From Aug. 3 to Oct. 6 Earthlings concludes its tour at the Nanaimo Art Gallery.

“It’s an incredible opportunity to bring these really distinct art practices to the community of Nanaimo,” NAG curator Jesse Birch said of the show.

“The central core of this exhibition is collaboration, often across cultures and languages … so the idea of art being a means of communicating across cultures and languages fits in perfectly with our question, ‘How can we speak differently?’”

Potter estimates that half the drawings and three quarters of the sculptures will be shown in Nanaimo. Esker curator Shauna Thompson, who curated Earthlings with Boyle, said the heart and integrity of the exhibition are still in tact.

“I think people come in not really knowing what to expect,” Thompson said.

“There’s a lot of work and a lot of detail and a lot of things to see and process, so I think people come in and are really surprised by the depth and the richness of the storytelling.”

Thompson has chaperoned Earthlings during its four-city tour. Once its Nanaimo showing concludes, the exhibit will be disassembled and its pieces returned to the private collections to which they belong.

“On one level I’m going to be really sad to not see this work all together again, probably ever. But I also feel comforted knowing that it’s going back to homes where it’s loved,” Thompson said, looking at the freshly assembled display.

“To actually have everything here in one space, it’s nice to kind of see how [the art works] talk to one another for the last time.”

WHAT’S ON … Opening reception for Earthlings takes place at the Nanaimo Art Gallery on Thursday, Aug. 2 at 7 p.m. Show runs until Oct. 6. An artist talk with Shary Boyle will be held on Oct. 4 at 7 p.m. at VIU Building 355, Room 203.

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