Art and Artists

Author: Tom Novosel Page 1 | Page 2 | Page 3

 

In the 1950s a Canadian government worker and artist, James Houston, introduced to the Inuit modern printmaking techniques and further encouraged drawing. The major settlement of Cape Dorset, in present day Nunavut, was the area in which he focussed. The stimulus for this action was in hoping that Inuit artists might be able to sell their prints and drawings as a way to supplement their income; this has become a very successful venture, in which Inuit artists from many communities all over the Arctic have participated. While it can seem that the introduction of new artistic media to help Inuit artists pander to tourists and southern art collectors had been a paternalistic Canadian government inducement, it has also been a venture that Inuit, and even all First Nations, artists have controlled and profited by exposing their cultures on their own terms.

If it is only a drawing that the artist wishes to make, then they will usually use coloured pencils or felt markers; the Inuit love of colour and design are the product of living in a country where the attractions of nature are simple and vast. However, in the early years of Inuit printmaking, a single color was also used. Drawings and prints are two-dimensional art and, therefore, colour and setting is most important; two-dimensional art also makes it easier to show many people and animals, and it is possible to show them in a surrounding landscape than in sculpture or carving. If the drawing is to be used to make a print such as a stone cut, then the process is more complicated and collaborative. A stone cutter transfers the image to a stone block and carves it out, and then a printer, using a roller, applies black or coloured inks to the stone to transfer the image from the block to the paper. Inuit artists tend to draw or create prints of things important to them or their heritage, things they have seen or heard, meant to preserve Inuit traditional ways of life on paper or stone, to be passed down through generations. The artist, printer, and stonecutter, if it is a collaborative piece of work, choose whether or not their names, date and title, and symbol signifying the community are placed on the work of art. One of the most famous Inuit printmakers was Pudlo.

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“Pudlo: Inuit Print Maker”

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“Neighbours North: Print Carver At Work”

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“Hunting”

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“Everyday Life: People, Sled-dogs, And An Igloo”

In 1962 the Canadian government’s Department of Northern Affairs and National Resources opened up the Baker Lake Craft Centre in the Northwest Territories (present day Nunavut). This institution helped many Inuit artists further realize their talent to carve and profit from these talents. One of the most prominent examples of the importance of Inuit art work was the opening of the Keewatin carvings exhibition in Winnipeg detailing “a milestone in the craft-development program started among the Baker Lake People in 1962.” As one Montreal art critic stated: “These carvings have impact. [Describing Kingalik’s sculpture The Archer, image 99] It’s partly posture and a sense of movement; a hunter’s arm is half raised in greeting and the archer reveals more tension by his stance than his drawn bow.” Several famous Inuit carvers and artisans such as Quabluitok, Akkanarshoonak, Amarouk, Makpa, Kingalik, and Kalloar earned even more recognition through public displays of their art work. From the Winnipeg exhibition, many carvings were reserved for individual collectors or the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Today, museums and galleries throughout Canada and the United States exhibit Inuit carvings, printmaking, and drawings.

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“Quabluitok: Inuk Carver And Artisan, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“A Talent To Carve: Baker Lake Eskimos And The 1962 Winnipeg Carving Exhibition”

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Baker Lake and Rankin Inlet were settlements in which Canadian government-sponsored arts and crafts programs promoting pottery and ceramics for the Inuit also focussed in the 1960s. It was well known that there had been archaeological discoveries of pottery in the Arctic, so it only made sense at the time to further stimulate Inuit interest and talent in ceramic sculpture and pottery. On an economic level, ceramics and pottery have not been as financially rewarding to the Inuit or as popular to the public at large as have been stone sculptures, carvings, or drawings. Ceramics and pottery, however, still exhibit traditional Inuit cultural values and identity, and have been successful in conveying to the south original and individual ideas of the Arctic world. One of the more well known Inuit carvers and ceramicists is Kavik.

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“Kavik: Inuk Carver And Ceramicist, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“Pot: Inuit Ceramics, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“Pot: Inuit Ceramics, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“Pottery Art In Progress, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“An Inuk Artist With Pottery, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“Inuit Artists Making Pottery, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

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“An Example Of Inuit Ceramics”

Although many Inuit people have now converted to Christianity, and shamanistic beliefs are becoming less prevalent, images of the shaman are still a theme present in Inuit art. Shamans are both feared and revered for their powers, which can include prophetic dreams. Shamans tend to be illustrated as having a bright light emanating from their bodies, which cannot be seen by the human eye but only by spirits, and can help them see into the future or faraway lands, or help them find, for example, a lost item. Spirits are very important to shamanism and, therefore, when hunting, for example, it is important not to anger an animal’s spirit by violating the prescribed methods of killing animals. Shamans have also been believed to help locate lost souls and return it to its human owner. Shamans are also believed to be able to change into the shapes of various animals, and many sculptures represent this phenomenon, which have been called transformation pieces.

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“Soapstone Carving Representing A Shaman With A Drum And A Walking Man”

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“Seems To Be Depicting A Shaman”

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“Seems To Be Depicting A Shaman”

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“Seems To Be Depicting A Shaman”

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“Ceramic Panel Mosaic, Rankin Inlet, NWT”

The sun plays an important role in Inuit life. After long cold winters in the high-Arctic north, it is a time of rejoicing when the sun finally rises and brings light and warmth, melts the snow, allows grass to grow, and announces the arrival of migrating animals. In Inuit mythology, the sun is personified as a woman. In Inuit art that depicts the four seasons of the year, the sun is an integral aspect as it describes the story of how the land, habitats, and activities of the Inuit all change when the seasons change. The land itself is also always an important part of art as it is from the land that Inuit gained much of their knowledge, wisdom, spirit, past, and life. In fact the name Nunavut itself means “our land.”

Art is more than just sculptures, paintings, and drawings; music, song, and dance, for example, are also expressions of art and have always been important to Inuit communities, but are lesser known because they cannot be translated, or can be translated only with difficulty. Singing is often part of the everyday routine, and people write their own songs to sing. Dancing is a group activity often done to the beat of a drum accompanied by singers. Dancers sometimes imitate the movements of seals, polar bears, and caribou in their dances. Drums can be made from whale lung or caribou skin stretched over a bone or wooden frame. Drum dancing has a long tradition, but has at times almost died out in Inuit communities throughout the twentieth century. Revivals of traditional culture have, however, helped spark the flame of interest in subsequent generations. The Arctic Winter Games have become just one of many ways in which Inuit have expressed their traditional cultural values to the world at large. A revival of traditional life and activities of the Inuit, then, has inspired artists in their work.

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“Indian Games Drum (Inland Tlingit)”

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“Drum Rhythms, First Arctic Winter Games 1970”

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“Drum Rhythms, First Arctic Winter Games 1970”

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“Native Dancers, First Arctic Winter Games 1970”

Art allows people to learn about the traditions of another people. Art is in many ways a universal language and a window into cultures different from one’s own; here, Canada’s southern population has ample opportunity to not just appreciate the beauty, power, and vastness of the country’s northern lands, but also to learn about its northern indigenous inhabitants. First Nations and Inuit peoples have remained a distinct society with their own beliefs, customs, and legends, even if their lifestyles have changed over the years. While some First Nations and Inuit art has been produced for commercial use, the overriding fact is that their art is personal and created for the artist’s satisfaction. By looking at First Nations and Inuit artwork one can learn much about their way of life, the thoughts and ideas of individual artists and their inspirations from their northern homelands, and the traditions and beliefs of the culture.

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“Cornwallis Island, Resolute Bay to Ellesmere Island Otto Fjord, Nunavut”

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“Bernard Irkogartuk And His Daughter Netsitih, Pelly Bay, NWT, 1966”

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“Inuit Family: Ice Festival, Tuktoyaktuk, NWT, 1989”

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