A fan of Inuit sculpture…how can you not be??

By Janet Alilovic
Gallery Volunteer

In 2005 I volunteered here at the gallery for the exhibition Inuit Sculpture Now…in 2006 I started eagerly following the work of the Drawnonward art collective (who painted WAY above the arctic circle)…the works didn’t so much pique my interest in northern art as awaken an appetite for polar travel. My reaction was strong and I remember thinking, How do you GET up there?

Revealed, David Marshak
DRAWNONWARD art collective
Source: D. Marshak’s website, not from my collection (I wish…)

3 Sednas by:

Guy Nutarariaq (side-lying figure)
Jacoposie Tiglik (tall figure)
Saganie Oshuituq (small, black)

From the collection of Janet Alilovic

Whalebone Narwhal
By Charlie Quasa

From the collection of Janet Alilovic

A modest collection…
It wasn’t until I was up experiencing Nunavut that I got the urge to accumulate its art – my modest collection is from Pond Inlet, Clyde River and Iqaluit. Nunavut is a truly special land infused with Myth and Legend… and I was able to debunk a few common myths just by visiting the north a few times:

Myth and Legend #1
One must go to “it” spots like Cape Dorset to find a good source of art. False. Though Cape Dorset is to Inuit art what Hollywood is to film (and is home to more artists per capita than anywhere in Canada), in the north these days there is great art everywhere. It’s showcased wherever YOU are: the Tourist Centre, hotels and airports, any high traffic area. You’re imagining hidden gems displayed in secluded artists’ studios, but it’s unlikely…they don’t sit there for long. Once a piece is carved, it’s quickly moved out to find a buyer. This is the artists’ livelihood.

Myth and Legend #2
Never buy art from a wandering artist. I read such advice in some article about art collecting for beginners. This, however, doesn’t apply to carvings in the north. Many, many legit artists will find you in restaurants or airports in Iqaluit. They know tourists are looking, and tourists enjoy the experience of the direct buy.

Myth and Legend #3
Carvings are made from local soap stone readily plucked right off the tundra, practically ‘found’ materials. No way. Artists purchase a variety – whether soapstone extracted from Brazilian, American or Canadian quarries, or white granite of unknown origin. And anything flown into Nunavut is terribly expensive, which is why broccoli there costs 6$. Very popular for carving, though, is local caribou antler, whale bone, walrus tusk (ivory), even bear tooth. Flying home within Canada is a bonus as sculpture made from any of these materials won’t be confiscated.

Myth and Legend #4
One can always haggle for a lower price when purchasing sculpture directly from the artist. False. Inuit culture doesn’t have marketplace mentality, and the dance of raising the price only to have the buyer lower it is uncommon. Mostly, the artist has factored in their time, tools and supplies. If it’s a fair price, pay it. If you’re not sure, a 10 minute peek at any hotel lobby display or the village Co-op will give you a price-point for the size and refinement of that kind of piece.

I’m lookin’ forward to gleaning more info from Heather Beecroft’s free ARTalk on Abraham Anghik Ruben and northern art co-ops, Nov. 18th at the gallery, 7:30pm. See you there.

One thought on “A fan of Inuit sculpture…how can you not be??

  1. Tim Abberley says:

    Hi there,

    I am studying for my Masters at Bournemouth University and currently making a very short film discussing the philosophy of film maker Robert Flaherty. He often compared his style of ‘revealing’ the truth behind the more obvious reality to the skill of an Innuit craftsperson drawing a figurative sculpture from a piece of stone or bone. I would like your permission to use the image of the narwhal from your website as a back projection for a part of the film where he (played by an actor) is discussing this philosophy with another film maker of the period.

    I’d be very grateful and at am more than happy to credit your site and / or the photographer as the source. The film is a part of my Masters only and is not intended for public exhibition at any time.
    Should that situation change I will inform you immediately.

    Please be assured that the images will be shown respectfully and no comparison or association with Flaherty is intended, they are used purely as exemplars of the craft and skill of the artist.

    Many thanks for your consideration

    I will be happy to post you a link and password to the completed film when I submit it for assessment.

    Thanks again


    Tim Abberley

    Programme Leader in HE Media

    Degree Centre Weymouth


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