In drawing what cannot be seen on the surface, Pootoogook conjures up the poignant truth of what lies underneath. It is a clever sleight of hand.
Let me be brief. Before writing this piece, I re-watched the short film/documentary Annie Pootoogook from 2006. In the film, we see Pootoogook (1969–2016) at home in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, at work in the Studios. She is proud and confident, announcing she is an artist: the daughter of an artist, the granddaughter of an artist. She makes faces at the camera, sticking out her tongue, showing her playful and light-hearted side—a trait that shines through as an underlayer in many of her works. It is the subtle and irrepressible laughter of an inner giggle—that inner tickle that can lead to tears. This is what many of her pieces do for me, and what I see as her strength and inner clown—her calculated buffoonery. Art often resonates with a viewer based on what is happening in their life at the time or how it connects to their lived experiences, but at times there is also something deeper that can’t be clearly articulated at first blush— or brush. Annie Pootoogook’s Brief Case (2005) is one of those pieces that resonates with me on various levels. As a federal public servant the term “brief” is prominent in my day-to-day lexicon; it is both noun and verb. We are asked to write briefs, to provide briefings, to keep things brief, to brief up, to debrief. This last one probably gets the most raised eyebrows and chuckles from outsiders to government given the image it conjures up and is perhaps the most appropriate for this piece. I often hear about how Pootoogook drew her truth, her day-to-day reality, and not those scenes of days gone by in villages and camps before her time. She captured her own time and her own life in these pieces, which echo the voices of my elders about speaking the truth of what you know and live, rather than the experiences of others. As an English Literature and Theatre graduate, I also place Pootoogook in a long lineage of artists and writers, including Charles Dickens and Thomas Hardy, who created great works from their lived experiences that continue to resonate across cultures and over generations. As a theatre artist, I studied the art of bouffon—a style of clowning that provokes a pleasured response through performance, but also a word that indirectly translates to the cruelty and vacuousness of human society. Brief Case does just that. In drawing what cannot be seen on the surface, Pootoogook conjures up the poignant truth of what lies underneath. It is a clever sleight of hand. In exploring my own bouffon side, I once created a character called Underwear Woman. A superheroine with super tights and many, many pairs of underwear, who flew around the world delivering clean underwear to those in need. Perhaps, like Pootoogook, I too was offering a service that would make people laugh and cause them to examine their own “dirty laundry”. Brief Case gives us a fleeting glance at Pootoogook’s bouffon and true artist’s spirit at the intersection of playfulness, humour and deep insight.