Foreword: Cape Dorset Print Collection 2017
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One of the youngest artists, Ooloosie Saila, has only been working with the studio for a year, but art has always been a vital part of her life growing up in Cape Dorset. When she was a young girl, Ooloosie remembers watching in awe as her friend's grandmother, the celebrated Inuk artist Kenojuak Ashevak, worked on her drawings in their home. Ooloosie looked on smiling as we flipped through prints in this year's collection, enthusiastically pointing out the works of distinguished artists and community leaders like Nuna Parr, Pitaloosie Saila, Ningiukulu Teevee, Shuvinai Ashoona, and the late Tim Pitsiulak, who tragically passed away in December of 2016.
An ornate drawing of a yellow owl is the first work of Ooloosie's to be reproduced as a stonecut print Ornamental Owl 17-13 which, to her delight, is included in this year's collection. She spoke about her experience getting to work with stonecutter Qiatsuq Niviaqsi excitedly announcing, "I got to choose the colour!" Senior lithographer Niveaksie Quvinaqtuliaq, who has been working at Kinngait Studios since the early 90's, explained that the proofing process could take as long as two months, so a close relationship between printmaker and artist is critical. Transforming the original drawing into a print requires the technical expertise of the lithographer or stonecutter to effectively communicate the artist's creative vision—a collaborative spirit that exists throughout the entire community.
With 10 works in the collection, my conversation with Ningiukulu Teevee was a remarkably catalytic moment in my understanding of how essential art production is to the members of this small Arctic community. I had already developed an enormous admiration for her whimsical and expressive depictions of animals and life in the North, but listening to Ningiukulu describe the narratives behind each image pushed me to view each of the works in the collection through a new lens.
She explained some of her works were simply the product of her imagination, whereas others were inspired by stories she had grown up with or Inuit legends she has studied in her adult life. One story in particular entirely transformed the way I saw the print it had inspired—that of the owl and the raven Raven's Boots 17-29. According to Ningiukulu's account, long ago, both the raven and the owl were white until, one day, they agreed to
paint each other's feathers with soot. The raven painted the owl first, and the owl was so happy with his new look that he gave the raven a pair of boots as a thank you. When it was the raven's turn to be painted, he was so excited with his new footwear that he couldn't sit still, and the owl had to paint the raven all black.
Ningiukulu's drawing of a raven's head with a small pair of boots peeking out in the corner provides a playful and distinctly contemporary perspective on this well-known Inuit legend. I approached this work with the mind of a collegiate art historian, however, Ningiukulu showed me that her drawings demand more than simple formal analysis, as they are truly material expressions of Inuit culture. After our conversation I thanked Ningiukulu for taking the time to share these stories, and for welcoming me into her beautiful hometown. "Cape Dorset is the best place in the world,' she responded, a sentiment that is documented by every drawing she creates.
Artist and seasoned stonecutter Qavavau Manumie's work illustrating a shaman calling on the polar bear spirit to help his people may seem entirely incongruent Arniniq Inuusiq (Breath of Life) 17-10 with Saimaiyu Akesuk's graphic, almost neon, bird prints, but they are each the product of this remarkable artistic tradition. Through its inclusion of works by individuals from multiple generations, this collection is fundamentally Inuit in content, while still showcasing the diverse styles and perspectives of these contemporary artists in Cape Dorset.
- Claire Foussard