Traditionally, Inuit doll-making had a practical purpose. It was an initiation into adulthood, as it not only taught young girls the way of Inuit life through play, it also taught them how to sew. It was an invaluable skill involving the various stages of skinning an animal to stitching together the skins.
The dolls came to represent the way of life in Northern communities. The unique designs of the dolls’ clothing resembled the wardrobe worn by the people of the region or community in which they were crafted and can, therefore, be considered miniature replicas of traditional Inuit attire.
Doll-making for play began to disappear in the 1950’s as Inuit moved away from life on the land into settlements. Cultural shifts and the onset of the contemporary period of Inuit art led to doll production found a new purpose in economic gain through sales to the southern markets.
All dolls in the exhibition were made for the purpose of sale by artists representing various communities across the Canadian Arctic. Some of the dolls revive authentic clothing styles and designs, while others combine different stylistic elements in new ways. Through the use of various materials and techniques, the dolls represent Inuit fashion and its methods.
“Inuit Dolls: From Past Traditions to New Expressions,” features 27 Inuit dolls on display for the first time since their acquisition by PAMA for its permanent collection from the Museum of Inuit Art. On now at Peel Art Gallery Museum and Archives, 9 Wellington St. E., Brampton until March 18. For information: www.pama.peelregion.ca.