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Urban Inuit: The work of Barry Pottle

One of Pottle’s photographs from the Kanata 150? Exhibition.

August 11, 2017

I am pleased to let you know about a relatively new website by contemporary urban Inuit photographer from Nunatsiavut, Barry Pottle. We are fortunate to now have access to his body of work via the web site. In 2013, the Canadian Studies Center hosted an exhibit of Pottle’s photography titled Food(land) Security (supported by a Fund for the Arts grant from the Association for Canadian Studies in the United States). Since that time many educators in the United States and students in Arctic studies at the University of Washington have had the opportunity to meet and speak with Pottle and to hear more about his vision to “bring voice” to the contemporary urban Inuit experience.

The focus on urban Inuit life in Canada is unique. Pottle’s photography uses the power of art to convey knowledge and understanding about society and to build community – to bring voice to the joy, the pride and the challenges of urban Inuit in Ottawa. One of the aspects I most value about Pottle’s philosophy is that he does not interpret his work. As James Adams noted in a Globe and Mail article about Pottle’s 2016 exhibit “Awareness Series” (about the Eskimo Identification Tag system by the Canadian government), “Pottle’s concern is less with drafting a manifesto or pleading for a particular response than creating a work that lets the viewer proceed to his or her own feelings and thoughts.”

Exploring Pottle’s website for the first time, I was particularly moved by his images responding to Canada’s 150th birthday. I am presently participating in the 3rd Korea Arctic Academy where Korean students and students from the circumpolar world are engaging in a 10-day seminar on the future of the Arctic. I left the University of Washington for Busan just a couple of days following the celebrations for Canada’s 150th birthday. As part of the festivities for the 150th, Pottle contributed to a project “KANATA 150?” that included seven Indigenous artists who reflect on this theme. I was struck – brought to tears actually – by the image of the small shards of ice, proud as any iceberg, melting into a pool of water. Pottle’s statement notes that climate change may be one way that we can all find meaningful connection and work together.

From Busan where 30 students from North and South have come together to learn and to share their insights, Pottle’s work provides a way to understand the voices of urban Inuit in Canada and challenges us to think differently about the future of the Arctic and our planet. I encourage young scholars in Arctic studies to consider Pottle’s work and the work of the many artists from the North in their research. Nakurmiik Barry for contributing to understanding about Ottawa, the Arctic and the world. – Nadine C. Fabbi

By Nadine C. Fabbi, Canadian Studies Center, Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies