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“One of the things that is really critical to understand is that a lot of our art is very much about our kinship and relationships,” she said. “By making the work more visible and accessible, we can go in and find out what was made by our ancestors or family members or relations.”

Stephen D. Borys, the gallery’s director, said that the large representation of sculpture in the collection made it possible to open up much of the vault without fear of it being damaged by exposure to light.

Dr. Borys said he was often asked throughout the project why the showcase for Inuit art was in Winnipeg.

The partial answer is history. After World War II, Hudson Bay trading posts began sending Inuit art to the company’s head office, then located across the street from the gallery in Winnipeg. Much of it was sold by the Bay at shops in Montreal and Winnipeg. But during the 1950s, the Winnipeg Art Gallery became a buyer and exhibitor.

When Dr. Borys returned to his hometown about a decade ago, he was surprised to learn that his predecessors had traveled relatively little to meet with Inuit artists in the north despite the gallery’s large collection. He soon changed that. And he also made sure that Michael Maltzan, an architect from Los Angeles, joined him in the north after he was commissioned to design the sculpted building which, on the outside, evokes an iceberg.

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