During my many years living in Cape Dorset, I came to know most of the artists personally. They do not think of themselves as ‘artists’ in our understanding of the word. In fact, there is no equivalent word for art in their language. One of the words used for art in Inuktitut is isumanivi, which means, “your own thoughts.” In the early years, when drawing was a new and unfamiliar task, people would frequently ask, “what should I draw?”, and the answer was, whatever comes to mind, or isumanivi – think your own thoughts. The great joy and discovery for all who were unfamiliar with the Inuit imagination was the originality and aesthetic of those thoughts.
Pictured here is Anirnik Ragee’s 2004 lithograph, “Field of Verse,” an arrangement of Inuktitut syllabics, enhanced by the printer’s “rainbow roll.”
Very few Inuit artists have any formal training. Carvers learn the techniques and skills from watching their elders and trial and error. The Kinngait studios provide drawing paper and materials to anyone who wants to try, encouraging those who show some talent and interest. In this way, the first generation has now given way to the fourth. Their approach to their subjects is rooted in their cultural traditions, especially the connection to the land and animals of the Arctic on which they depend for their livelihood and lifestyle.
It has been my experience working with Inuit artists over many years and several generations that these immensely talented and generous people are motivated by their desire to share their world and way of life with the rest of Canada and the world.
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