At the Sivertson Gallery in Grand Marais, Minn., one night several winters ago, I stepped in from the cold as people nabbed a few remaining seats, others clustered near a wall hung with paintings, and children scurried to the front to sit cross-legged. Then two Inuit women walked to an opening — there was no stage — and mesmerized the crowd with their guttural, percussive sounds. Inuit sculptures made of soapstone, whale bone and walrus tusk, on display in the gallery, made a nice backdrop.
The duo’s noises resembled a fierce wind, croaking frogs, bass drums. Their rhythmic song grew faster and faster, until they finally broke down into laughter. That’s when they explained their art: Inuit throat singing.
Women in the Canadian Arctic have long used the singing as a kind of friendly competition — who could keep up the diaphragm-taxing work the longest? It was used as entertainment in the villages, especially when the men were out hunting. Some women used it to lull their babies to sleep. The old tradition had been fading, after Christian missionaries discouraged it. Now, it is rebounding as more young people learn the rare skill.
For 15 years each March, the Sivertson Gallery — in downtown Grand Marais, near Sven and Ole’s Pizza and the Ben Franklin — has hosted a weekend of events highlighting Inuit culture. This year’s Inuit Premiere weekend, slated for March 20-21, will showcase a host of art, from prints to sculptures.
Throat singers will appear at the Siiviis Gallery in Duluth on March 20 at noon, and three times at the Sivertson Gallery in Grand Marais on March 21. The events are free. Bluefin Bay Resort, East Bay Suites and Art House B&B are offering 10 percent discounts for Inuit Premiere guests.
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