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Lost Visions, Forgotten Dreams —
Life and Art of an Ancient Arctic People

ontreal, Wednesday November 29, 2000 — The McCord inaugurates Lost Visions, Forgotten Dreams Life and Art of an Ancient Arctic People, a travelling exhibition produced by the Canadian Museum of Civilization.

For three thousand years before the Inuit arrived in Arctic Canada, the circumpolar region was occupied by a people of remarkable accomplishment. Known to archaeologists as the Palaeo-Eskimos, they developed the techniques that first allowed humans to live successfully in the coldest portion of the habitable world. The exhibition explores the history, culture, beliefs and art of a people living beyond the range of known human adaptations. The carvings on display are delightful and intriguing, and represent one of the great prehistoric art collections of the world.

Visitors to the exhibit are greeted by a large-scale reproduction of a petroglyph site from the eastern Arctic, a soapstone cliff covered with carvings representing human or human-like faces. The first segment of the exhibit presents the rich animal life of the Arctic. Videos and large photographs describe an environment that at first may seem stark and barren to southerners, but which provided a home to hunting peoples with the skill and knowledge to make use of its resources. The exhibit then introduces the first humans to develop these skills, a people who came from Siberia about 5,000 years ago, and rapidly spread through Arctic North America. The large numbers of carvings recovered from the dwellings of the Palaeo-Eskimos give a rare insight into the worldview and beliefs of these ancient hunters.

The first segment of the exhibition, Magic Animals, Magic Weapons, presents carvings of animals such as bears and falcons, and carvings thought to be representations of the spirit helpers of the Palaeo-Eskimo hunter.This section also presents decorated harpoon heads for hunting sea mammals, and miniature weapons that may have been the amulets of hunters.

The exhibition's second section, The Realm of the Shaman, presents fascinating masks, drums, wands, fertility figures, and other objects that appear to have been the equipment of shamans, members of the community who communicated with the world of spirits to heal the sick, change the weather, or predict the location of animals. This section also features a video-projection suggesting the mystical journey of the shaman.

Other sections describe daily life "on the edge of the world," the artistic and architectural achievements of the Palaeo-Eskimos, their cultural florescence, the environmental changes that influenced the migration of different prehistoric Northern peoples, and the gradual disappearance of this culture in the centuries after A.D. 1,000. The final installation removes the visitor from the historic context created by the exhibition, and displays approximately 200 of the finest carvings in a modern gallery setting. 

Lost Visions, Forgotten Dreams — Life and Art of an Ancient Arctic People will be on display at the McCord Museum until May 6, 2001. The McCord will also be presenting a series of community activities in conjunction with the exhibition, including Inuit syllabic writing workshops, and throat singing demonstrations.

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David Rollins (514) 398-7100, ext. 229

Slides and digital images available on request

The McCord wishes to acknowledge the support of the Heritage Canada Museums Assistance Program, the Quebec Ministry of Culture and Communications and the Arts Council of the Montreal Urban Community.