Small Inuit Art exhibition

The Dutch National Museum of Ethnology is in Leiden, a short walk from Leiden’s main train station. The museum not only hosts large exhibitions and shows pieces from its permanent collection. One can also visit small exhibitions. One of the current ones is on Canadian Inuit Art.

This small but interesting exhibition has been organized to commemorate Canada’s 150 anniversary. During the Second World War, the country offered then Princess Juliana, grand-mother of King Willem-Alexander of the Netherlands, a safe haven. In fact, Princess Juliana’s third daughter and aunt to the Holland’s present King, Princess Margriet of the Netherlands was born in Ottawa in 1943.

HRH Princess Margriet and her husband Prof van Vollenhoven

The Princess and her husband regularly visit Canada. During the ’80s, they joined Canadian Inuit and traveled through Northern Canada with them. The Inuit introduced them to local art. Like others, the couple were impressed and started collecting Inuit art.

A few of the couple’s favorite pieces, which usually decorate their home, have been lent to the museum. These pieces are part of the small exhibition, which can be visited till January 2018.

Other exhibits come from the large collection of Inuit art of Mr Hans van Berkel. He traveled to Canada for the first time in 1973. Like the Princess and her husband, Mr van Berkel became fascinated with Inuit art. He recently donated his extensive collection to the museum.

The exhibition contains small statues as well as prints and items, formerly for daily use. There is an early documentary showing the harsh life Inuit led near the North Pole. There is a video showing a few of the artists at work, as well as giving a glimpse into their lives.

Some of the prints are hilarious as well as shaming for tourists. Take the print called “The first tourist”. However, what impressed me most, are the small carvings. I especially loved one in green stone showing Sedna or Sanna. Sedna is the goddess of the sea and sea creatures.

One of the Sedna carvings in the exhibition

Using Sedna, the exhibition hints at the effects of climate change. Climate change especially influences the lives of Inuit and other people depending on the sea.

It also mentions the damage done during contact between Inuit and Western people. It is nice to read that Canada’s celebration focuses on climate change, diversity, acknowledging that grave mistakes were made in the past. Yet it remains upsetting to read suicide rates among Inuit who create such beautiful art, remain high.

Leiden Museum of Ethnology, Museum van Volkenkunde: Inuit Art, one of several exhibitions at this museum, can be visited till January 2018

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