Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Art in Nunavut

I wasn't much of an art collector when I lived down south, and even now, I wouldn't consider myself to be very knowledgeable about art. But I do know what I like.

Artists often stop by my office to say hi and show me their newest work. There are a lot of talented artists in town - a disproportionate number of them, I'd say - and now that I have a steady job, I like the idea of supporting the local art scene. These artists' visits give me a fascinating glimpse into the world of Inuit art.  After you've been up north for a while, you start getting a feel for the various artistic styles of the different regions of Nunavut, as well as some insight into what your own personal artistic preferences are.

Wall hangings are pretty popular in Cambridge Bay, felt canvasses with various scenes of northern life sewn on to them.  Personally, though, I love the prints.

"Wishing for Food" by Mabel Nigiyok (Ulukhaktok)

This is the print that is hanging in my office, titled "Wishing For Food". I love it. I love the bright colours, the abstract concepts illustrated so vividly, and the raw emotion that you can actually feel in the wolves.  Also, it's a feeling I know well, when I sit in my office.  I'm hungry a lot.

Printmaking was introduced to the Inuit in the 1950s, using stencils.  Each graphic is reproduced only a limited number of times, which ensures that each print is valuable. Ulukhahtok (also known as Holman) is well known for their beautiful prints. It's the only other community on this island, Victoria Island, and is considered to be part of the Northwest Territories. One day I'd like to go there and visit their printmaking studio.

"Any More Down There" by"Wishing for Food" by Mabel Nigiyok (Ulukhaktok)

Inuit carvings are also a famous art form all over Nunavut.  The Inuit have been carving things pretty much forever, especially to make tools like knives, but carving as an art form was heavily encouraged by the Canadian government in the 1950s.  The Baffin Correctional Centre has a carving program in the prison as a rehabilitative program for prisoners, which interestingly means that some of the best carvers in the area learned/perfected their skill while doing time in prison.  

a handmade ulu, traditional Inuit knife, with the handle made from caribou bone.

The sculptures are not particularly cheap to purchase up here, but they sell for a fortune down south.  Someone once told me that if someone breaks into your house, it's likely that all they will steal is your alcohol and your carvings.  They won't touch your TV, which is bulky to carry.  But carvings are relatively easy to grab and have enormous (and quick sale) cash value .

Drum dancer sculpture, by Jorgan Klengenberg (Cambridge Bay)
The drum is made from baleen, the drum stick is made from muskox bone, and the rest of the sculpture is made of soapstone.

Carvings can be made from all sorts of material, including soapstone and soap stone.  In Cambridge Bay, the stone materials are usually brought in from somewhere else, like Gjoa Haven, because as far as I know, most of the rocks around here are shale, which is fun to collect and take home as sushi platses, but break way too easily to use for sculptures.

My personal preference for carvings are ones that are made from bone.  Especially muskox bone or horn, because muskoxen are pretty much unique to this area.  

Ulu-shaped muskox horn earrings

snow goggles carved out of caribou bone.  
We bought this as art but it's actually quite functional and wearable, 
in terms of blocking your eyes from the glare of the snow

I also really like carvings made out of baleen, which is the "teeth" part of certain whales, like bowhead whales, which is not particularly easy to get.  You know, because you have to first catch a whale.  The carvers usually get their baleen materials from out of town (like Pangnirtung), because I don't think anyone's hunted a bowhead whale in Cambridge Bay in years.

Inukshuk-shaped baleen earrings shaped as inukshuks

knife with baleen blade, caribou bone handle

Cambridge Bay also has some very talented non-Inuit artists. Denise LeBleu is a local photographer who takes lovely photos of the northern landscape, photos which are often featured in the newspaper. Miguel Chenier is a local artist who makes breathtaking landscape oil paintings with brilliant colours that I just can't stop looking at. I guess it's not so surprising that there is so much beautiful art here, for a relatively small town, if you consider the gorgeous Arctic scenery that we have as inspiration.

so, what should we do with this muskox horn we got?