For centuries, the Inuit have lived in balance with the environment, taking part in the endless round of life and death in a land as abundant as it is harsh. The animals that share this land have always been essential to the survival of the Inuit and are revered as powerful spirits.
In the past, animals provided everything needed by the Inuit to survive; skins for clothing and shelter, oil for lamps, bone for implements, and most importantly, meat for food. The importance of animals to survival was not taken for granted, and many of Inuit spiritual beliefs concentrated on their relationship with animals and animal spirits. One strongly held belief was that animals, like humans, had eternal spirits which were born and reborn into the world. Respect was given to these creatures that gave up their bodies again and again so that the hunter could provide food for his family.
It was believed also that shamans could transform themselves into animals to communicate with the spirits, ensuring a successful hunt. They were also responsible for appeasing the sea goddess, Sedna, without whose indulgence any hunting efforts would be fruitless. Sedna was easily angered by careless humans, who could stumble over any one of a dizzying number of taboos, all related to the reverence due to animals and the land.
Today, the representation of animals in Inuit art is a reflection of the central spiritual role they once occupied in the culture, as well as an expression of the way they are currently perceived. Shamanic traditions are rarely referred to verbally now, but images of transformation and of the sea goddess are kept alive in works of art. Sometimes, the artist portray animals with the intimate knowledge of the hunter, down to the movement of muscles under the skin, but more often, the works hint at a feeling of longing for the old traditional ways and beliefs. The animal is idealized, made more perfect through the veil of memory, its grace or power emphasized to evoke the spirit within.LIVING ARCTIC illustrates the diversity of personal artistic styles and visions of many sculptors from across the eastern Arctic. The artists' fascination with wildlife subjects speaks of the Inuit's strong cultural identification with their land and with the creatures who share it.X