Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964
JANUARY 7 – APRIL 9, 2017 QUEEN’S UNIVERSITY, KINGSTON, ON
A curator traces the collaborative process involved in bringing to light an iconic and dynamic collection of drawings from Kangiqtugaapik, Mittimatalik and Ikpiarjuk.
The early 1960s marked the beginning of a turbulent era for Inuit in the eastern Arctic. Day and residential schools, the arrival of the snowmobile and wood-framed homes, among other changes, brought both opportunity and pain. Families began to move off of the land and into the growing settlements, ending a way of life known for many generations. As Sheila Watt-Cloutier, recently wrote of this period, this “journey into the modern world was not an easy one—and it has left its scars.”¹ It was in this milieu that Terry Ryan, artist and Arts Advisor for the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, saw the importance of recording Inuit visual expression and thought. Ryan had been working in Kinngait’s fledgling print studio for just three years when, in 1963, he applied to the Canada Council for the Arts for a grant to support a simple but ambitious idea: he proposed to travel to three communities in the North Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island), NU, region and their outlaying encampments— Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) and Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay)— where he would distribute paper and pencils and invite people to “draw anything”. By giving people the opportunity to record what they wanted and how they wanted, the project would help document Inuit graphic arts “before the mounting influences of southern civilization in the Arctic replaces the past, and in many cases the still present, mode of living and thinking among the Inuit,” as Ryan wrote in his grant proposal. In February of 1964, Ryan flew to Kangiqtugaapik from Iqaluit. He hired a dog team and guides, Simeonie Qayak and James Jaypoody, to travel to the encampments where he distributed paper and visited with old friends, like Sakkiasie Arreak. For two weeks, slowed by illness and rough ice, Ryan and his guides travelled more than 400 kilometers by dog team to Mittimatalik.
He continued his venture around the community for several weeks then flew to Ikpiarjuk before retracing his journey back to Kangiqtugaapik, buying up all the drawings on his return. The resulting collection of drawings amassed over the course of four months constitutes one of the most important documentary and artistic records of Inuit cultural and social life in the mid-twentieth century. All told the collection includes 1,844 drawings created by 87 men and 72 women between the ages of 7 to 70. The drawings are substantive in size and range in style, ambition and complexity. Some are highly representational, with single-point perspective and delicate shading. Others are multi-perspectival, with flattened figures rendered in profile. Thematically, the drawings cover an extraordinarily diverse array of subjects, including historical events culled from memory and oral history, hunting and myths and legends, along with many quotidian snapshots from everyday life. Most include Inuktut writing, and some, particularly those from Kangiqtugaapik, have no picture at all, but are instead comprised of page upon page of writing that fills the entire sheet. The collection reveals a compulsion to record history and traditional knowledge and reflects the participants’ desire to share their thoughts, hopes, aspirations and anxieties about their lives. Apart from an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 1986, which resulted
The resulting collection of drawings amassed over the course of four months constitutes one of the most important documentary and artistic records of Inuit cultural and social life in the mid-twentieth century.
in the superbly researched catalogue North Baffin Drawings by Jean Blodgett, the collection has essentially remained out of sight for five decades. I had known of this collection through Blodgett’s catalogue, but little did I know of its full richness, since the catalogue only included 75 reproductions. In late 2011, when I was Curator of Inuit Art at the Canadian Museum of Civilization (now the Canadian Museum of History [CMH]) in Gatineau, QC, I began discussions with Ryan about the possibility of acquiring the drawings for the national collection. I approached the North Qikiqtaaluk communities and found broad support, as they felt it important to ensure the collection would be kept intact as well as accessible for study and appreciation in a public museum. In early 2014, the entire collection of drawings was approved for acquisition. That summer, I left the museum to join Queen’s University. The project continued to move forward, now with the support of both institutions. From our earliest discussions, the communities of Mittimatalik and Kangiqtugaapik expressed an interest in working with me to create an exhibition around the collection. I sent digital images of all the drawings to both communities and found institutional partners in Piqqusilirivvik, the Inuit Cultural Learning Facility in Kangiqtugaapik, and the Pond Inlet Archives. In 2015, with the support of the then Director of Piqqusilirivvik Jonathan Palluq, I visited Kangiqtugaapik and began to pour through the collection
with educators Joelie Sanguyuk and Davidee Iqaqrialu and elder Ilkoo Angutikjuak. The visit began to make clear the vast scale of traditional knowledge embedded in this drawing collection, as well as the enormity of the task ahead of us. Huddled around a wide-screen monitor, the group would linger over a single drawing for 40 minutes, carefully deliberating the exact meanings of an Inuktut word seldom used today. In this initial consultation meeting, the broad contour of an exhibition was hashed out: rather than attempt to provide a representative survey of the collection, based on southern aesthetic standards, the exhibition would call upon the contemporary experiences of community members who would select and discuss a drawing on video. After receiving approval from the Queen’s University General Research Ethics Board and the Nunavut Research Institute, the work to develop an exhibition began. Tina Kuniliusi, from Ittaq, the cultural heritage organization in Kangiqtugaapik, and Philippa Ootoowak at the Pond Inlet Archives in Mittimatalik helped coordinate the project in their respective communities. In March and April of 2016, I made trips to both Kangiqtugaapik and Mittimatalik to begin interviewing and filming for the exhibition. In Mittimatalik, Queen’s University art history graduate student Rosemary Legge was on camera duty, while CMH Project Developer Jean-François Léger contributed important input on framing the interviews. In Kangiqtugaapik, the videography, translating and rough editing was done by staff at Ittaq, Mike Jaypoody and Robert Kautak. For the filmmaker Mike Jaypoody, the project was especially personal since it was his father, James Jaypoody, who provided guide services to Ryan in 1964. At the Nattinnak Visitor Centre, we held a general public presentation, as well as one for elders, to share and discuss the collection. These meetings sparked much discussion, personal reflection and surprise. Few young people even knew the drawings existed and many elders had not seen their own drawings since they were created more than 50 years ago, nor did they realize the full scope and historical importance of the collection in its entirety. It was revelatory. Fourteen individuals were interviewed on camera for the exhibition, which included 50 framed drawings representing the work of 23 artists. A total of 43 short video interviews were created, each of which was linked to a specific drawing. This approach was taken to give visitors a more intimate experience and to bring into focus the varied ways the drawings are significant to contemporary identities. In the exhibition space, videos were presented on two touch monitors with attached media drives, a plug-and-play method of delivery that would work in the North, where there is a lack of high-speed broadband. In addition to the two monitors, the videos were also made accessible in the gallery via quick response (QR) codes linked to an exhibition website that allowed audiences to view the videos on their own mobile devices as well as making them accessible to a virtual audience who could not visit the exhibit or spend the entire 90 minutes that would be needed to view every video in the gallery. Also included was an in-gallery booklet, which included condensed translations of all the writing on the drawings. This was helpful for audience members because many interviewees often used a drawing’s text as a jumping off point for personal reflection, eschewing a more straightforward explanation of the image. The entire exhibition—videos, website, texts and booklets—was produced in English, French and Inuktut. The process of selecting drawings was fluid, with the standards and criteria shaped by those involved. Because the entire drawing collection numbers over 1,800 works, I made an initial rough selection of some 120 works when I first went north to conduct interviews.
However, I soon realized that people wanted to see and discuss many other works not on my initial list. My potted questions simply served to initiate conversation, which invariably took off in unanticipated but fascinating directions as people scanned the rest of the collection (which I had on my computer), stopping on drawings that piqued their interest. Several of the more senior interviewees would quietly examine a drawing for several moments, read the text on the front and back and, with a nearly imperceptible nod for the camera operator, break into a thoughtful reflection. Some interviewees, like Ham Kadloo, spoke in short, punchy bursts that were ideally suited to the exhibition format. Others interviewees, like Ilkoo Angutikjuak, used the drawings to launch into longer, meandering stories and recollections. In the end, the interviews guided the final selection of drawings. Individuals often picked drawings that they had a personal connection to, such as Solomon Koonoo discussing Jacob Peterloosie’s drawing Tormenting a Polar Bear. Peterloosie’s picture depicts several youth—one of whom was a young Koonoo—running away from an attacking bear. One of the youth had fallen at the bear’s feet, with his gun knocked away. Koonoo’s interview offered a first-person recollection, not just of the dramatic moment captured in the drawing, but also of the events leading up to the bear attack and afterward. Koonoo ends his interview with a self-deprecating chuckle: “It was the first time we got a bear, and we had someone bitten by it!” Joanna Kunnuk, discussing the late Jemima Angelik Nutarak’s drawing of sewing patterns, spoke eloquently of the responsibilities of women, while acknowledging that although she takes great pride in her own sewing today, “younger people are not as knowledgeable of the old patterns.” Many commentators, young or old, saw the drawings as repositories of traditional Inuit knowledge. The linguist and educator Elijah Tigullaraq said during an interview, “The drawings are unique; they are different. They are about Inuit history, the language, the culture—clothing, living, legends, animals, everything for men and women.” Editing of the videos took place in Kangiqtugaapik and Kingston, ON, while copies of the raw interviews remained in both communities. Given the difficulty of the language (the syllabic writing in 1964 did not use finals), gender differences and regional dialects, a total of four translators were employed to translate the drawings and the videos, the latter of which was accomplished via periodic uploads to YouTube and regular email. Adding to the complication of working with many individuals, translators, interpreters and organizations in Nunavut was the fact that this exhibition was
“The drawings are unique, they are different. They are about Inuit history, the language, the culture—clothing, living, legends, animals, everything for men and women.” ELIJAH TIGULLARAQ
co-produced by the Agnes Etherington Art Centre and the Canadian Museum of History. To say the exhibition had many moving parts would be an understatement. In January of 2017, Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964 opened at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University. Between August 26 and October 8 of 2017, a condensed selection from the exhibition will be at the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit before segments are sent to Mittimatalik and Kangiqtugaapik. The entire exhibition opens at the Canadian Museum of History in February of 2018, followed by other venues across Canada. Many of the elders and youth in Kangiqtugaapik and Mittimatalik acknowledged Terry Ryan’s foresight and expressed heartfelt gratitude for his work in soliciting and preserving these drawings. But what also became apparent during the interviews was the fact that many northerners remain largely alienated from their own cultural heritage in southern museums. Exhibitions are fleeting, but evidence shows that museum collections can play a profoundly transformative and positive role in the reclamation of Indigenous cultural identity, health and social well-being. Although the acquisition of the drawings and the collaborative development of Picturing Arctic Modernity took several years, it is really just a starting point. I am now working with various cultural and heritage organizations in Nunavut to discuss the possibility of developing a reciprocal research network around this collection that would use contemporary digital technologies to link northern communities with the museum and Queen’s University. Such a network will empower communities, foster cross-cultural and cross-generational understandings and provide ongoing northern access to these drawings, so that they can be used in schools, by heritage groups and by other researchers. The North Qikiqtaaluk drawings have already traced an incredible journey, but their most important journey may be still to come.
Jemima Angelik Nutarak (b. 1915 Mittimatalik) — String Games and Ayagaq 1964 Graphite 50 × 65 cm
Installation view of Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964 at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, 2017
LEFT Toongalook (1912–1967 Ikpiarjuk) — What I Had Seen a Long Time Ago 1964 Graphite 65 × 50 cm
BELOW Ilkoo Angutikjuak, Joelie Sanguyuk and Davidee Iqaqrialu examining digital copies of the drawings in Kangiqtugaapik, July 16, 2015
BELOW Jacob Peterloosie (b. 1930 Mittimatalik) — Tormenting a Polar Bear 1964 Graphite 65 × 50 cm
RIGHT Installation view of Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964 at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre at Queen’s University, 2017 PHOTO PAUL LITHERLAND
NOTE ¹ Sheila Watt-Cloutier, The Right to Be Cold: One Woman’s Story of Protecting Her Culture, the Arctic and the Whole Planet (Toronto: Penguin Canada Books, 2015). Lydia Atagootak (b. 1913 Mittimatalik) — Women’s Responsibilities Then and Now 1964 Graphite 50 × 65 cm