Passa Saviardjuk Qavavauk
When I evaluate a work of art, I am generally searching for three intrinsic elements: does the piece engage my imagination, does it offer insight into the artist’s personal reality and does it demonstrate a balance between what Norman Zepp refers to as “form and vision”? Passa Saviardjuk Qavavauk’s (1930-1988) incised stone depiction of two scenes, a seal hunter on one side and the making of a tupiq (tent) on the other, does both. That Qavavauk is a versatile artist is clear from the fact that she produced craft, sculpture, drawings and prints, but her decision to incise her narrative into stone exemplifies the seamstress as sculptor. By treating the surface of the stone as decorative appliqué, her incisions are her stiches.
Sulijuk means “it is true”; when applied to artistic practice sulijuk can be seen in the sense of reality created by the artist when details achieve what anthropologist Nelson Graburn refers to as “liveliness”. On the flat surface, Qavavauk depicts
a hunter positioned over his game, ready to clean and prepare the freshly killed seal. The artist has also sculpted the released soul of the slain seal off to the right, illustrating the spiritual dimension of the “breath soul”. Here the breath soul—the conscious component of a living creature’s soul and which keeps it alive—is visualized as a miniature version of the seal’s physical body. The concept of the breath soul is complex and varies across Inuit cultures. One often-shared belief is in the respect given to and adherence of the ceremonialism of the hunt that enables the animal’s soul to rejoin with Sila (the formless, life-giving spirit, also meaning “air” in many dialects). If ceremonial customs were not followed, the animal’s breath soul might remain on Earth as a malevolent spirit that could be responsible for bad weather, sickness and starvation. Here, the seal’s spirit appears to be pleased.
Qavavauk’s extensive cross-stitches create a transition from the flat side of the sculpture, with hunter and seal, over to the undulating one and the making of a tupiq. A field of sea ice that narrows between two rocky bluffs and flows off to the top right is revealed. The two curvilinear lines representing trails down a mountainside also serve to unify the two tableaux. In this second scene a woman has transformed the seal into sinew and skin and is now constructing the tupiq. The detail of the draped thread of sinew over her right pualueet (mitten) creates a sense of motion.
In this piece the artist strikes the perfect balance between form and vision. The aesthetic topography of her work, including the shape of the stone used, mirrors the two impressive cliffs that plunge into Digges Sound and fortify the entrance to the coast of Nunavik (Quebec) where Qavavauk’s community of Ivujivik is located.
Passa Saviardjuk Qavavauk (1930-1988 Ivujivik) Untitled 1980 Stone 17 x 18 x 4.5 cm