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Inuit Art: Canada’s Soft Power Resource to Fight Communism

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Focusing on publicly funded international travelling exhibitions of Inuit art during the 1950s and 1960s, this article examines how Canadian civil servants came to recognize contemporary Inuit art as a ‘soft power resource’, an attractive cultural force with moral authority in the international arena, which they could use to fight communism as part of the cultural Cold War. The article takes into consideration how the discourses of modernism and primitivism shaped the reception of Inuit sculpture in Eastern Europe, and the way those discourses had political resonances that coincided with the government’s policy of validating the nationalist aspirations of Europeans while sharing carefully mediated glimpses of Canadian life, among other objectives. Seeking to understand how Joseph Nye’s concept of a ‘soft power resource’ can provide a useful way of understanding the reshaping of Canada’s cultural policies after World War II, specific reference is made to the ways that Indigenous arts were entangled in Canada’s foreign objectives during this era.
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Keywords: Canadian Eskimo Art; Cold War exhibitions; Inuit art; art and diplomacy; exhibitions and soft power

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Queen’s University

Publication date: October 1, 2016

More about this publication?
  • The Journal of Curatorial Studies is an international, peer-reviewed publication that explores the cultural functioning of curating and its relation to exhibitions, institutions, audiences, aesthetics and display culture. The journal takes a wide perspective in the inquiry into what constitutes "the curatorial." Curating has evolved considerably from the connoisseurship model of arranging objects to now encompass performative, virtual and interventionist strategies. While curating as a spatialized discourse of art objects remains important, the expanded cultural practice of curating not only produces exhibitions for audiences to view, but also plays a catalytic role in redefining aesthetic experience, framing cultural conditions in institutions and communities, and inquiring into constructions of knowledge and ideology.
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