The Art Of The Inuit

ngakkuq (Shaman), Serpentine & caribou bone & feathers (1998)

ngakkuq (Shaman), Serpentine & caribou bone & feathers (1998)

I have taken an interest in the art of the Inuit recently, mostly because it’s an expression of a relationship with nature that stretches back thousands of years. There is plenty to discover.

Inuit art was bought to the eyes of the west by James and Alma Houston in the 1950’s. James, an artist in his own right, had travelled to the North to find the Inuit way of life contained a deeply rooted culture of creativity. The two eventually settled in Cape Dorset where he shared with the Inuit the methods of stone cut print making. James had learned this in Japan.

The Houston’s were content not to influence the Inuit artists but just to give them the tools to further express an incredible culture that defines its self through its own relationship to the land. Outside of its quality, the fascination with Inuit art for me is that their work contains such purity, the early pieces hardly influenced by Western culture; this is what makes it special.

Lithograph; Kenojuak Ashevak

Lithograph; Kenojuak Ashevak

On a trip to Kejimkujik National Park last year, I spoke with a Mi’kmaq canoe builder. Standing on the shore of a huge lake, surrounded by wilderness, I said to him that it was incredible that he could look out over the water to the forest and beyond and say that he came out of this land. Not far away were his peoples own form of expression, petroglyphs, drawn on shoreline rocks by his ancestors. So it is with Inuit art, it too has come out of the land, an expression so closely connected with nature that really there is no separation. Human self expression is as natural as breathing.

In the documentary film, ‘Vanishing Point’, which follows an Inuit woman (Navarana) from Greenland back to Baffin Island where her ancestors had come from, there is a clip in which she is picking blueberries on the barrens. Hunched over, she says to the camera, ‘what wonderful colours the Blueberries are here’. This short sentence says it all. It shows us the depth of her relationship with the land that sustains her, that her life is lived at a natural pace, appreciating, understanding and acknowledging the smallest details of being alive.

A link to the NFB film on Cape Dorset artist Kenojuak

I wonder how many of us stop to contemplate such small details like this in our own lives. Like the art of the Inuit, the woman’s thoughts on Baffin Island Blueberries contains everything that Western Society seems to miss, contentment and a profound appreciation for the Earth that sustains us, these qualities are in us all, we just have to pay attention and somehow reconnect with the blue in the blueberries.

The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak.

The Enchanted Owl, Kenojuak Ashevak.

End Quote, “”Those who know how to play can easily leap over the adversaries of life. And one who knows how to sing and laugh never brews mischief.” Inuit proverb.