Poupée (1977x.207) [Doll (1977x.207)], 2021, Metal filling cabinet, written correspondence on paper, documents, 77 x 120 x 130 cm

The Musée d’art de Joliette’s collection was built organically. Since the objects were collected over a long period of time and not always catalogued systematically when acquired, the collection includes many poorly documented items. Throughout its history, the institution has increased its professional standards by adopting collections management protocols, particularly in terms of data collection and inventory control. In the case of this Inuit doll selected by one of the MAJ’s staff members, neither the artist’s name, nor the doll’s provenance or date of creation were registered when it was acquired. With help from the collection’s curatorial staff, Desjardins began researching the doll’s origins.

Judging by its clothing, it would be reasonable to assume the doll originates from Nunavik. Desjardins’ intervention creates a face-to-face encounter between the two dolls in the collection and two others from the same region that are part of the collection of the Avataq Cultural Institute, a cultural organi- zation of the Inuit people of Nunavik. By curating this mini exhibition within her own project, Desjardins gives the anonymous dolls a more specific context and creates a dialogue with more recent works from the year 2000 by known Inuit artists. This gesture highlights the resilience of Inuit artists, and recognizes the richness of their artistic production and its transformation over time.

On October 30, 2020, at 10:23 a.m., Camille Rémillard-Vigneault, then Education and Contemporary Art Intern, sent Chloé Desjardins a description of the object 1977x.207.

The object I chose is of uncertain origins. I know that it is an Inuit doll that landed in the Museum’s reserves in 1977, with no known maker, dating, or assured provenance. Its archival file is almost empty. Nor are we given any clues as to the identity of the donor, who could have told us more about the status and function of the object. I will therefore say here what I know and, especially, what I do not know. In order for the description of the object to be accurate and respectful of the communities involved, the Avataq Institute, the cultural organization of the Inuit of Nunavik, and La Guilde, a gallery specializing in Inuit and First Nations art, were consulted.

At first glance, the doll is rather large and surprisingly heavy. Its face, carved in wood, is rather serious and makes it look old. Although the pupils are not carved, the eyes are piercing. In the drawer, it lies next to a doll that resembles it and was donated to the Museum the same year, but whose head is carved in soapstone. It is wearing an amauti, a coat traditionally worn by Inuit women so that they can carry their babies on their backs in a large hood, allowing the child to snuggle up to them. The doll’s amauti is off-white and yellowed from wear and tear, with red and green embroidery on the sleeve ends and the bottom of the garment. It is quite long in the back, shorter in the front, and even shorter on the sides, as if it was shaped like an animal tail. The idea of this garment is to reproduce what the animal has to protect itself. The hood is edged with black synthetic fur. A belt made of twisted red and yellow fabric is tied at the doll’s waist, over the coat. It also wears a red skirt with a floral pattern, fairly high white kamiik (boots) bearing the same embroidery as on the coat, and a blue nassaq (toque).

These dolls, which may be used as toys, are also made by artisans for tourists or collectors. The Museum’s database indicates that they are often made by Inuit girls, so that they can practise sewing. In those cases, the dolls’ heads are made of leather so that the girls can learn to work with this material. According to Avataq, when a head is made of stone, like that of the other doll, it is often a collector’s doll. Here, the vagueness that remains around the context of the object’s acquisition and origin leaves doubt as to its status and function, despite the clues that could enlighten us, such as its wooden head.

Although I initially chose this doll because I naïvely thought it was pretty, I quickly realized the complexity of the issues surrounding the status and presentation of objects like this one, especially when they are so poorly documented. However, I still believe that taking them out of storage is important. Engaging in a dialogue with the communities involved so that these objects can be better documented gives them the attention, visibility, and recognition they deserve.

Unknown artist, Doll, 20th century, Wool, fur, embroidery thread, skin, seal fur, 45 x 22 x 10,5 cm

Collection of Musée d’art de Joliette. Unknown provenance. 1997x.207