“What’s Up With Our Classes?” Episode #1 – Aaju Peter Speaks With 2 Lucky Guilford Classes

Hello, and welcome to “What’s Up With Our Classes?” – I’m your host, Hannah Litaker!

On Thursday, September 19th, two incredibly lucky classes from Guilford joined together in the art gallery for a discussion with our very special guest speaker Aaju Peter, an Inuit culturalist and clothes designer, among many other accomplishments. The two classes, Kathryn Shields’ Notions of Beauty and Roy Nydorf’s Drawing II, were given a sneak peek at her presentation in the Carnegie Room for tomorrow night* and got up close and personal by participating in some intellectually stimulating discussion.

So why these two classes?

I’m positively elated that you asked!

Notions of Beauty were discussed at length during the hour and fifteen minutes we were assembled (Part of Aaju Peter’s presentation includes what Inuit women wear and their traditional tattoos) and Drawing II is a class that fulfills Guilford’s Cultural Diversity in the U.S. requirement because of the way different artwork is seen through different cultural lenses (having a culturalist speak is learning about diversity at its finest!) It’s really kind of easy to see why this was an important excursion for these particular classes!

Aaju came wearing a beautiful article of clothing. Their parkas – or amauti – are elaborately sewn and have large hoods to protect the wearer from the bitterly cold elements, but are also equipped with a pouch underneath the hood for a baby. The mother can easily move the baby from back to front to breast-feed or let the baby relieve themselves without losing the heat generated by their bodies.

Though becoming less common today, Inuit women will often have spiritually symbolic tattoos on their hands, faces, arms, and legs. Aaju told us that while most women get the tattoos at puberty, she didn’t get hers until later in life as a kind of political statement showing her pride. Each one means something – the facial tattoos represent the sun and the moon, for instance. One particularly interesting thing I learned in the discussion is that the women will often have the symbols for the men’s hunting instruments tattooed on their arms – they figuratively carry their husband’s tools for them. Women in Inuit society are held in as high regard as men, if not higher in some cases – this has not always been the case, historically, to put it mildly. To me, it’s always great when discussions stemming from art and culture connect to  race and gender issues that we confront every day.

What did we learn on the show tonight, Hannah?

I think, much like my post from last week (link), that this discussion shows how important art actually is to education, culture, and daily life. Their lives and their unique culture are being displayed right under our noses in our very own art gallery. In the Inuit language, there is no word for “art” – their art is all functional, helpful, and representational. They are a highly independent, very understanding, and open-minded society. To quote Aaju Peter – “As Obama says, ‘Yes we can!’ Something we’ve known about for centuries!”

Goodnight, everybody, and keep loving art.

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*7:30pm – Reception following in the Art Gallery.

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