Le marché de l’art inuit est florissant depuis les années 1950. Toutefois, pendant plusieurs décennies, les Inuit1 n’ont pas eu le contrôle de ce marché principalement destiné à une clientèle du Sud. Lori Idlout (ᓘᕆ ᐃᓪᓚᐅᑦ), propriétaire de la Galerie Carvings Nunavut (Iqaluit) incarne un changement qui prend finalement place, grâce à l’obtention d’une licence lui permettant d’utiliser l’Igloo Tag Trademark.
Créée en 1958 par le département des Affaires indiennes et du Nord, la marque de commerce Canadian Eskimo Art and Design, mieux connu sous le nom d’Igloo Tag (d’après son logo), assurait une protection contre les contrefaçons inondant le marché dès les années 1950. Créé afin d’aider les artistes inuit à relever ce défi économique de taille, l’Igloo Tag, qui a d’abord été géré par le gouvernement fédéral, fut transféré le 9 mars 2017 à l’Inuit Art Foundation (IAF), une organisation inuit nationale dédiée au soutien et à la promotion des artistes inuit. À la suite de ce transfert, l’IAF décide d’attribuer une licence à la Galerie Carvings Nunavut, une étape significative puisque les licences étaient jusqu’alors détenues par quelques organisations importantes, comme la Guilde canadienne, la Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec, ou encore la Compagnie de la Baie d’Hudson2. Nunavut Carvings est alors devenue la première galerie indépendante et Lori Idlout la première Inuk à être licenciée. Nous avons eu l’occasion de discuter avec Mme Idlout de l’obtention de cette licence, et ce qu’elle représente pour elle et les artistes inuit qu’elle soutient3.
Julie Graff — Can you tell me how you started your gallery?
Lori Idlout — My husband and I, we both started the gallery about 9 or 10 years ago. My husband has always appreciated and loved Inuit art. We started collecting more and more Inuit art in our house, and people would come to visit our house to look at them. It came to a point when I realized we should probably start an Inuit art gallery so that we can show the amazing talent that the Inuit have. I have also always been, myself personally, engaged in supporting the Inuit in different ways, because in Nunavut, where we live, it’s difficult to have jobs and such. To support Inuit creativity was then in a way a bridge between our two interests. It was also a way to help and support Inuit artists by being available to them so that they can be more creative and know we will buy their art. Both my husband Allan and I, we work very well together with each of our passion, and we have been able to maintain the gallery by always believing in Inuit art and believing in supporting the Inuit, so that they can support their families as well.
Where are the artists you represent mostly from?
Most of our artists are from Nunavut, but we also buy Inuit art from other Inuit regions, like Nunavik. And we also repatriate in a way old art that was bought years ago and brought to the South. We bought from estates, which sold Inuit art and we brought them back, when we could.
And do you sell only in Iqaluit?
All our art is here at our gallery in Iqaluit, but we also have a website, carvingsnunavut.com, so we do sell our art through the website and we send all over the world.
How did you become a licensee for the Igloo Tag Trademark?
The Inuit Art Foundation, when they came to Iqaluit for a public consultation about the Igloo Tag, came to my gallery. I think they had heard about my gallery when they visited Iqaluit, and they were quite impressed with what’s inside the Carvings Nunavut Gallery. They told me they had acquired the rights to the Igloo Tag, and they approached me to make an application to be able to buy a license, to be able to issue the Igloo Tag. It was then an application process, which I thought made sense, in a way, because to be able to use the Igloo Tag is a privilege.
You are the first independent gallerist, and the first Inuk to become a licensee. What does it mean for you?
First, it shocked me to hear that I was the first Inuk, because the Igloo Tag is supposed to be there to confirm the authenticity of the Inuit art, and Inuit can do that for sure! For the length of the time that the Igloo Tag has existed, I had not realized there had been no other Inuk who got the license to be able to buy and sell Inuit art, so that was a surprise to me. It is an honour to be the first Inuk to become a licensee I think.
What difference is it going to make for the gallery and the artists you represent? What kind of benefits do you expect?
As a business woman, an Inuit business woman, I want to be able to share, and to encourage other Inuit, to encourage other women, to encourage people.
I am not sure yet how it will affect us, because we already do promote that we buy and sell authentic Inuit art. We also have a Nunavut tag, that we get from the Government of Nunavut. I think it is going to be helpful to promote Inuit art to the world. Because of the history of the Igloo Tag, being a licensee will help us to promote and market with confidence that we are selling authentic Inuit art.
Do you expect more Inuit gallerists to obtain a license for the Igloo Tag Trademark? Do you know if any of them are interested?
I haven’t heard if others have applied or not, but the Inuit Art Foundation is doing a really good job of increasing their presence and increasing the awareness of what they do. So, I feel like I’m only the tip of the iceberg. I’m hoping and have full confidence that the Inuit Art Foundation will be able to issue more licenses to Inuit business owners, so that it can be the Inuit who are buying and selling Inuit art on the market.
Why is it so important for you to have more Inuit in control of the Inuit market?
This is about the business mindset, I think. It is challenging to be in a business, it is very much about making sure that you can keep the business growing and having to support the business through difficult situations, such as having no sales happening. It can be a struggle, and I think it proves to people, to other Inuit, to Southerners, that the Inuit are able. It proves that the Inuit are capable and talented, that we can have a voice, that we can work hard. It shows that Inuit as business people can be successful. By working in partnerships, the Inuit between each other, and between the Inuit and southerners, we can all be successful.
What are your projects for your gallery, now and in the future?
At Carvings Nunavut, we are always trying to find more ways to make it easier to buy and sell Inuit art, and we work with the artists. We provide tools, we provide loans when we can, we provide temporary housing, so our artists can have a place to live in temporarily when they need. We try to provide spaces for carvers to carve. To be able to maintain that and to increase in that capacity, to keep supporting artists, is our goal. There is also a couple of things we are working on. Nunavut has an Inuit language protection act, and businesses must be compliant with it. So, when we publish things, it must be in Inuktitut and English. And we are trying to work on making sure that all our staff at the gallery can speak in Inuktitut so when we are working with the carvers, if they want to work in Inuktitut, it’s a choice they can have. We’re also trying to update our website so to make it easier for people who visit it.
Any last word you want to add?
As a business woman, an Inuit business woman, I want to be able to share, and to encourage other Inuit, to encourage other women, to encourage people. If you have a dream, or if you have an ambition, surround yourself with people who are willing to support you. I have learned that during the years, it happens because there is teamwork, there is support, when you work together with many people, success is going to happen, because everyone is working for it. I encourage people to do what they can for them and their initiatives to succeed.
(1) L’ethnonyme inuit signifie « les êtres humains » en inuktitut, la langue inuit (un être humain étant un inuk). Nous avons choisi de suivre la position adoptée par plusieurs universitaires, et ainsi de respecter la signification originale d’inuit, qui sera utilisé sans être accordé en genre et en nombre (puisqu’il s’agit déjà d’un pluriel). En position adjectivale, il est aussi considéré comme invariable, ainsi : un Inuk, des Inuit, la langue inuit, etc.
(2) BOYD, Leslie. « Authentically Inuit », Inuit Art Quarterly, vol. 30, no 3, automne 2017.
(3) Nous avons choisi de reproduire l’entretien en anglais, afin de rester au plus près de la parole de Mme Idlout.