Nancy Saunders

The installation Katajjausivallaat, the Cradled Rhythm by Nancy Saunders (Niap) will be presented to the public in 2020, upon the reinstallation of the Museum’s Inuit art collection.

Nancy Saunders, who hails from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, holds a Bachelor of Arts degree from Concordia University, with a concentration in First Peoples Studies. As a talented throat singer, in 2014 she participated in a ceremony held at the MMFA celebrating the Quebec government’s recognition of throat singing – katajjaniq – as part of our intangible heritage. In 2015, she took part in an advanced sculpture workshop offered in Aupaluk, Nunavik, by the Avataq Cultural Institute and the Makivik Corporation. Her work was first shown in the McClure Gallery at the Visual Arts Centre in Montreal, followed by the Shaw Centre in Ottawa. In 2017, she obtained a residency at the École nationale supérieure des beaux-arts in Paris. On her return to Canada, she won a juried competition held by the Canadian Museum of Nature to create a work to be exhibited in the new Canada Goose Arctic Gallery. She was also awarded the 2018 Virginia J. Watt Scholarship from the Inuit Art Foundation.

The Cradled Rhythm consists of three distinct, subtly carved stones suspended above white pedestals by steel wires that are masked by directional lighting. Visitors are invited to use the headphones attached to the pedestals to listen to the soundtrack corresponding to each stone: the sound of the river, kuuvvaluk, for the turquoise stone; that of the wind, anuri, for the pink stone; and the legend of the poor little dog, Qimmiruluapik, for the white stone. The stones are material interpretations (colours, shapes and tool markings) of their respective throat songs that convey the experience of life in the North through music and oral tradition.1 Moreover, the stones evoke the notion of song through the holes visible in their surface, which serve as metaphors for the singers’ throats.The different treatments and textures of the stones symbolize the variety of guttural sounds.

In this work, the artist celebrates her heritage, an important foundation of her artistic approach: “My intention is to show the power and beauty of my ancestral culture, to reaffirm practices of the past, and to bring forth the elements that give it its depth and uniqueness. My work is thus pervaded by themes of identity affirmation and traditional Inuit culture, while incorporating modern elements.2 Beyond the installation’s sensory experience – effected in the near-magical lightness of the suspended stones in contrast with their monumental presence and enhanced by the visitor’s solitary immersion in sound and song – it invites a reflection on the use of the pedestal, a Western convention that is foreign to the Inuit tradition. In fact, in the past Inuit art was generally experienced and appreciated in the palm of the beholder’s hand.


  1. Interview with Nancy Saunders by Jacques Des Rochers and Louis Gagnon (Avataq Cultural Institute), May 16, 2018.
  2. Nancy Saunders, “Artistic approach.” A written communication sent in April 2018.

Ill. 1
Nancy Saunders (Niap), born in 1986, ᑲᑕᔾᔭᐅᓯᕙᓪᓛᑦ Katajjausivallaat, the Cradled Rhythm, 2018, Brazilian steatite, wire, sound recordings, headphones, pedestals, various dimensions. MMFA, purchase, Dr. Francis J. Shepherd Bequest. Photo Romain Guilbault

Ill. 2
Performance by Nancy Saunders at the exhibition ᑲᑕᔾᔭᐅᓯᕙᓪᓛᑦ Katajjausivallaat, the Cradled Rhythm, presented by OBORO and Casteliers. Photo Romain Guilbault