Some 14 years after the Canadian flag made its official debut in 1965, this work, created in the twilight of the prolific career of Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (1906–1985), reimagines the ubiquitous red-and-white maple leaf as background to a simple line-drawn figurative portrait. The deep red of the national ensign is swapped for a rich cerulean blue, while the outermost edges are trimmed in a vibrant yellow. Twenty years before the official creation of the territory of Nunavut and its distinctive flag, the artist presciently captured the palette meant to represent the riches of the land, sea and sky. The result is a playfully subversive reorienting of the Canadian experience, casting an Inuk, framed in delicate rose pink, as the central character. In this work, Oonark’s clear and purposeful line reminds us of the original inhabitants of this place, the “true North strong and free”.
Jessie Oonark (1906–1985 Qamani’tuaq) — Inuk Flag c. 1979 Coloured pencil 38.2 × 56.5 cm NATIONAL GALLERY OF CANADA © PUBLIC TRUSTEE OF NUNAVUT. ESTATE OF JESSIE OONARK