Indigenous knowledge keepers help Winnipeg Art Gallery in renaming of art collections

Indigenous knowledge keepers are helping Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq rename pieces of art that were given inappropriate titles.

Julia Lafreniere, head of Indigenous initiatives at WAG-Qaumajuq, has been working with researchers and Indigenous knowledge keepers to identify 57 works at the gallery that are in need of a name change.

It is part of the art gallery's work to decolonize its collection.

"As with many historical art collections at galleries, there are often pieces that have inappropriate titles in today's context. For example, some pieces will still carry words like 'Indian,' or 'Eskimo,' or 'Savage,'" Lafreniere told CTV News.

The gallery identified each nation depicted in these 57 pieces, and asked knowledge keepers from those nations to rename the art. She said Anishinaabe, Cree, Dakota, Inuit and Dene knowledge keepers joined the initiative.

"They all did it in their own way," Lafreniere said, adding some knowledge keepers held renaming ceremonies, giving the pieces new names in their Indigenous languages.

One collection, formerly titled 'Drawings of Eskimo Clothing', is being given a new name in Inuktitut, 'Ajjinuanga Angnaop Annuranganik.'

While the pieces are getting new names, Lafreniere said the knowledge keepers have asked that the old names still be included to be used as an educational tool.

She said the renaming is an important step.

"The titles, oftentimes, are the first way that the artwork is introduced to the public and people engaging with that artwork," she said.

"Giving them these new titles given by ceremonial leaders from the Indigenous community, it really ingrains Indigenous knowledge into the canon of art history."

She said WAG-Qaumajuq is the first art gallery to do this kind of renaming initiative, but she hopes other galleries do the same. 

More information about the Artworks Renaming Initiative can be found online.