Discovering Northern Connections: Inuit Art in the Art Bank Collection
Eleanore Mackie in the Art Bank viewing racks
This summer, I worked at the Canada Council Art Bank as the Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ) Inuit Artist Biographical and Archival Research Officer. This position was created by the Inuit Art Foundation in partnership with the Art Bank through the Young Canada Works (YCW) program.
Aside from honing my writing and research skills, I was drawn to this position as a way to deepen my understanding of contemporary art practice in Canada. While I’ve called Canada home since birth, as a Masters candidate at Queen’s University studying medieval art history I’ve mostly studied artworks made abroad in a different historical period. I’ve taken full advantage of the contacts and archival resources at the Art Bank to connect more strongly with art making in Canada—and I’m grateful for the opportunity to share my experiences with you.
Of the many tasks I undertook in this summer position, I most enjoyed writing artist biographies. Published online through the IAQ Profiles, these editorial pieces and expanded curriculum vitae are designed to help artists and researchers alike. The profiles outline the careers and practices of contemporary and historic artists from across all four regions of Inuit Nuangat, as well as the south. Each entry also includes:
- The artist’s exhibition history
- Where the artist’s works are currently being housed or displayed
- A list of publications about the artist’s work—including influences, achievements, and more
In crafting the artists’ biographies, I’ve begun to recognize familial ties, learned more about the breadth of artistic practices throughout the Arctic region, and garnered great admiration for the incredible talent that Inuit artists continue to share with audiences across Canada and around the world.
Some of my most memorable experiences while working at the Art Bank were with the Inuit community. I had the opportunity to see performances of traditional kattajjaq (throat singing) and drum dancing at the opening of the Open Channels exhibition in Âjagemo. I also met Ottawa-based Inuk artist Gayle Kabloona at the IAQ Edit-a-Thon, and learned about her family’s deep artistic legacy. It was a pleasure to hear more about the practices of her grandmother, Victoria Mamnguksualuq (1930-2016), and great grandmother, Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (1906-1985), while also viewing both artists’ celebrated works with her.
Finally, on digging through many artist files and gliding through the sea of racks and pedestals of art on site at the Art Bank, I’ve compiled a collection of my favourite artworks for you to explore further. I hope you enjoy their work as much as I do—and explore the profiles I wrote of them.
View Eleanore's favorite pieces from the Art Bank collection.
Artist Introductions and Profile Links
Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, is a graphic artist based in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. Her work has been shown in both national and international exhibitions such as, the Biennale of Sydney: All Our Relations (2012), and Oh, Canada (2012) at Mass MoCA. Her drawings are currently on view in the touring exhibition ᓲᕕᓇᐃ ᐊᓲᓇ: ᓄᓇᙳᐊᓕᐅᕐᓂᖅ ᓄᓇᕐᔪᐊᙳᐊᓂᒃShuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds.
Kingmeata Etidlooie (1915-1989) was a graphic artist and sculptor from Kimmirut (Kimmirut), NU. Settling in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, in the mid-1960s, she went on to produce many striking visuals in prints, drawings and paintings. As one of the first users of the Kinngait Studios painting facilities, Etidlooie was regularly able to experiment with her medium, establishing her own unique style as a result.
Annie Pootoogook (1969-2016) was a celebrated graphic artist from Kinngait, known for her unflinching look at contemporary life in the North. In 2006, she had a major solo show at The Power Plant in Toronto, ON and later that year received the prestigious Sobey Art Award.
Saila Kipanek is a sculptor from Iqaluit. Hailing from a family of celebrated artists, Kipanek found success in his own right later in life. Upon receiving two grants from the Canada Council for the Arts, Kipanek was able to produce new series of sculptures which reflected upon the fragile links between Inuit and the land, traditional legends and hunting themes.
A talented illustrator and prolific writer, Alootook Ipellie’s (1957-2007) practice celebrated Inuit culture and engaged with contemporary issues affecting Arctic communities. Born in Nuvuqquq (Baffin Island), NU and later settling in Ottawa, ON, Ipellie became interested in comics and developed a strong graphic style that included fantastically transformative imagery rooted in Inuit narratives.
Isaaci Etidloie (1972-2014) was a sculptor from Kinngait. Picking up his first set of hand tools at a young age, his earliest subject matter was filled with figures engaged in the daily practices of nomadic Inuit life. His later work explores themes that were expressed through song such as drum dancing, supernatural stories and elaborate spirit transformations, often including an interactive element within each piece.
About the Author: Eleanore Mackie
Eleanore Mackie is an academic writer and researcher currently based in Ottawa, ON. She is completing an MA in Art History from Queen’s University, focusing on the display of relics in Anglo-Saxon sacred spaces. Eleanore was invited to work with the Inuit art collection at the Art Bank in the summer of 2019 through a position with the Inuit Art Foundation, funded by Young Canada Works.