Barnabus Arnasungaaq Terry Ryan Mary Yuusipik Singaqti Samonie Toonoo
Barnabus Arnasungaaq (1924–2017)
Born in the Kazan River area of Nunavut in 1924, artist Barnabus Arnasungaaq lived a traditional life on the land until his family relocated to Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU. He began carving in 1961 and his work soon found a captivated audience in the South. Though he produced a few experimental prints in the late 1960s, Arnasungaaq is recognized as one of the most influential stone carvers of the Kivalliq Region. Arnasungaaq passed away in September 2017, leaving behind an incredible legacy of artmaking that spanned nearly 60 years. He is best known for his robust sculptures of umingmak (muskox), carved with undulating lines and simplified form, dictated by the hard local stone and his refusal to use electric tools to carve. Arnasungaaq was a respected elder and tremendous influence on his community. He will be dearly missed by his friends and family, including his sons, David and Norman, who are also carvers, and the Inuit art community. When asked where his ideas came from, the artist responded with this powerful statement: “I don’t know where I get my ideas…I look inside myself. Sometimes before going to bed, I examine the stone, carefully. And in the morning I know what it will be. To the new generation of Inuit carvers, here and across Nunavut, I recommend this: carve the way you want and not the way the white man tells you—remember you are an Inuk.”
Terry Ryan (1933–2017)
“The future lies with those who wish to take up the challenge, supported by those understanding of their needs.” These prophetic words were penned by Terry Ryan, celebrated arts administrator and lifelong champion of Inuit artists, in the second issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. An outspoken advocate for the field and an early supporter of the Inuit Art Foundation, Ryan passed away in August 2017. After graduating from the Ontario College of Art, Ryan began working for the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative (WBEC) in 1960, becoming the General Manager soon after. A Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, resident for 40 years, Ryan was instrumental in the marketing and production of printmaking, drawings and sculpture from the hamlet. Ryan worked for WBEC until he relocated to Toronto in 2000 to oversee Dorset Fine Arts, the marketing arm for the co-operative that he helped establish in 1978. Ryan’s extensive contributions to the field didn’t end with Kinngait. In 1964, he travelled to Kangiqtugaapik (Clyde River), Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet) and Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay), where he provided Inuit with paper and pencils and invited them to draw whatever they wanted, purchasing all of the finished drawings months later. The resulting drawings were most recently the subject of the touring exhibition Picturing Arctic Modernity: North Baffin Drawings from 1964 (2017–ongoing). Ryan worked tirelessly for over half a century to advocate for, support and celebrate Inuit artists, and will be remembered for his remarkable contributions. “Terry Ryan dreamt big,” remarked Hon. Dennis Glen Patterson in his remarks to the Senate Chamber on September 20, 2017. “Many non-Inuit have come north to seek treasure or advancement or, yes, to make their mark, but few are loved and respected as Terry Ryan was.” Ryan, whose legacy will be felt for years to come, will be dearly missed by his friends across both the North and South.
Mary Yuusipik Singaqti (1936–2017)
One of Qamani’tuaq’s (Baker Lake), NU, most respected textile artists, Mary Yuusipik Singaqti, passed away in late September 2017, following a fifty-year career. The second-youngest daughter of Jessie Oonark, Singaqti was married to artist Norman Singaqti. She began her career in the arts as a stone carver in the early 1960s, but quickly became known for her wall hangings, which she began making between 1963 and 1965 while Gabriel Gély was crafts officer at the Sanavik Co-op. Her colourful textile works, filled with incredibly detailed embroidery, depict scenes of hunting, travelling and community life—references to living traditionally on the land, before settling in Qamani’tuaq in 1960. Her textiles are notable for their incredibly dense and precise stitching, which she utilized to add incredible detail to figures’ clothing and animals’ fur and feathers. For much of her career, Singaqti resisted drawing, claiming that people said her drawings too closely resembled those of her brother William Noah. She finally picked up pencils in the late 1990s, at the recommendation of David Ford, General Manager of Jessie Oonark Ltd. Singaqti began making drawings that incorporated the fine detail and flattened perspectives of her wall hangings, but, unrestricted by the constraints of textile, her drawings are more precise and lively. Many of her bright, colourful drawings and textiles will be the subject of an upcoming solo retrospective at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The artist was quite nervous about the reception of her artwork, “I worry if people are going to like them,” she was quoted saying. “We were always brought up not thinking you’re too famous or too proud.” Despite the artist’s reservations, we’re certain her work will be embraced.
Samonie (Sam) Toonoo (1969–2017)
Samonie Toonoo, the trailblazing artist who pushed against traditional ideas of what Inuit sculpture could be, passed away in September 2017. He was the youngest son of artists Toonoo and Sheojuke Toonoo and brother of Jutai Toonoo and Oviloo Tunnillie. Surrounded by artists in his hometown of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, Samonie began to carve in the early 1990s. From the outset, he made mature work that shared with audiences his unique, unexpected and affective viewpoint. Samonie’s early works depicted animals and human figures with fine detail and exceptional quality. Over time, he began to imbue his works with surreal, macabre and grotesque elements, which earned him an enthusiastic audience in the South. He had the ability to create works that were both delicate and disquieting, emerging from his imagination and experience. His artwork also addressed important social issues, including the continued effect and trauma of colonization on Inuit. Samonie’s wildly imaginative steatite and bone sculptures have been included in solo and group shows across the country. Significantly, his work was on display in Scream, a two-person exhibition that showcased his work, alongside that of Ed Pien, at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in 2010. Some people, when they come from a family of visionary artists, shy away from making work that pushes the envelope for fear that they won’t be able to live up to the work of their relatives. This is untrue for Samonie Toonoo, who, despite being the brother of two of the most important artists of their time, made incredibly provocative and personal work. Samonie will be remembered for carving his own path with seal, skulls, shamans and spirits.
BELOW Terry Ryan (back) with artists Parr, Kiakshuk, Pitseolak Ashoona, Kenojuak Ashevak, Eegyvadluk Ragee, Lucy Qinnuayuak, Napachie Pootoogook and Pudlo Pudlat in Kinngait, 1961