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Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - Michael Foor-Pessin

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.

Photo Gre­gory Milu­nich

Passa Saviard­juk Qavavauk (1930-1988 Ivu­jivik) Un­ti­tled 1980 Stone 17 x 18 x 4.5 cm

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