An­nie Pootoo­gook: Cut­ting Ice


Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Nancy Camp­bell

A cu­ra­tor re­flects on the im­mense im­pact and last­ing legacy of the ground­break­ing, late graphic artist on the oc­ca­sion of her first ca­reer ret­ro­spec­tive.

It has been dif­fi­cult for me to speak pub­licly about An­nie Pootoo­gook (1969–2016) and thus, un­til the oc­ca­sion of this ex­hi­bi­tion, I had cho­sen to re­main quiet, be­liev­ing that ul­ti­mately her draw­ings would, over time, speak for her and tell her story. How­ever, the arc of her ex­cep­tional life and pre-ma­ture death cap­tured pub­lic at­ten­tion to such a de­gree that it has wo­ven it­self into the con­tem­po­rary fab­ric of life in Canada to­day. The in­tri­ca­cies of An­nie’s short 47 years speak both to pos­si­bil­ity and heart­break, the com­plex re­al­i­ties of truth and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion, the rich­ness of fam­ily and com­mu­nity and the depths of tragedy. In turn, her draw­ings de­pict a com­mu­nity in tran­si­tion, one that re­spects its past and is ne­go­ti­at­ing its fu­ture.

I knew An­nie. We worked to­gether in­tensely in Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, be­tween 2004 and 2010. The time I spent with her al­tered my world view and taught me about the North and the im­por­tance of com­mu­nity. An­nie was se­ri­ous about her art, proud of her ac­com­plish­ments and pro­lific in her cre­ation. When I first saw her work, I was cap­ti­vated by its clar­ity, as­tute com­po­si­tion and hon­esty. I strongly felt that An­nie’s unique draw­ings should be seen by as many peo­ple as pos­si­ble. As a cu­ra­tor, I worked col­lab­o­ra­tively with a group of peo­ple that in­cluded friends, col­leagues, the West Baf­fin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive (WBEC), Fe­he­ley Fine Arts, in Toronto, ON, and col­lec­tors of An­nie’s early draw­ings in or­der to make that hap­pen. This ex­hi­bi­tion is a tes­ta­ment to the im­mense im­pact of An­nie’s artis­tic vi­sion and, in many ways, is the re­al­iza­tion of that early im­pulse to share her work. I would also like to ac­knowl­edge

The di­rect­ness of An­nie’s im­agery chal­lenged both South­ern view­ers’ and her fel­low artists’ ex­pec­ta­tions of what pic­tures of the North should look like.

the sup­port of WBEC, Fe­he­ley Fine Arts and An­nie’s friends and fam­ily in Kin­ngait. This project was con­ceived with their in­put and holds at its cen­tre the peo­ple and won­der­ful things about com­mu­nity life in Kin­ngait, such as camp­ing, feast­ing, hunt­ing and fam­ily, that An­nie loved.

An­nie be­gan draw­ing se­ri­ously in 1997 at WBEC’s Kin­ngait Stu­dios, where she worked con­tin­u­ously un­til 2006 and dur­ing which she re­fined her sin­gu­lar ar tis­tic ap­proach. Although some of her pic­tures show life on the land, An­nie is per­haps best known for her charm­ing and ac­cu­rate in­te­rior scenes, such as get­ting ready for a date, eat­ing coun­try food, watch­ing tele­vi­sion or play­ing cards. She was also de­ter­mined to re­veal the dif­fi­cult so­cial, eco­nomic and phys­i­cal re­al­i­ties of to­day’s North, in­clud­ing in­flu­ences from the South, vi­o­lence, sub­stance abuse and a frac­tured so­cial safety net. As a third-gen­er­a­tion artist, An­nie was raised with ac­cess to tele­vi­sion and other me­dia from the South, ref­er­ences of which ap­pear in her draw­ings through de­pic­tions of Jerry Springer, Dr. Phil and Sad­dam Hus­sein. Some of her more con­tro­ver­sial works boldly re­veal the im­pacts of ad­dic­tion and abuse in her life and in her com­mu­nity. An­nie’s images of these so­cial ills per­sist as raw and straight­for­ward ac­counts.

An­nie worked daily, along­side fel­low artists Ju­tai Toonoo (1959–2015), Oho­taq Mikki­gak (1936–2014) and her cousins Itee Pootoo­gook (1951–2014), Si­assie Ken­neally and Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, all of whom were in­cluded in Cut­ting Ice. An­nie’s fel­low artists were both per­plexed and fas­ci­nated by her per­sonal ap­proach and con­tem­po­rary con­tent. Dur­ing the early 2000s the draw­ing stu­dios were busy and a new en­ergy was pal­pa­ble. I was a reg­u­lar ob­server in the room, which was as­ton­ish­ingly quiet. Often the only sound was the ra­dio play­ing. An­nie and her co­hort riffed off each other and ex­per­i­mented with new me­dia and ap­proaches un­der the gen­tle sug­ges­tion of the co-op. If some­thing ap­peared par­tic­u­larly pop­u­lar with buy­ers, each would adapt it in their own way. Many be­gan to draw what they saw, at times ex­tract­ing an ob­ject from the com­po­si­tion and iso­lat­ing it on the page. Some, such as Itee, used pho­to­graphs for in­spi­ra­tion. They made larger draw­ings, tried oil stick and sought new con­tent as seen in Mar­i­juana (2013) by Ju­tai, an over­head com­po­si­tion of a pot­ted plant, set against a pul­sat­ing red back­ground, or An­nie’s erotic pic­tures, in­clud­ing Mak­ing Love (2003–4) or Com­po­si­tion (Watch­ing Porn on Tele­vi­sion) (2005).

It took me a num­ber of vis­its to Kin­ngait to gain the trust of the stu­dio artists. An­nie, in par­tic­u­lar, was ex­ceed­ingly eva­sive and pri­vate. She spoke about her draw­ings in vague terms, often deny­ing that many of the sto­ries were about her own life and were rather those of “some­one she knew.” Sit­ting qui­etly in the stu­dio for many hours, hav­ing lunch to­gether, go­ing for walks and be­ing mind­ful of lis­ten­ing, rather than in­ter­pret­ing her work for her, was a worth­while ex­er­cise and over time al­lowed An­nie to tell the sto­ries of her life on her own terms. The di­rect­ness of An­nie’s im­agery chal­lenged both South­ern view­ers’ and her fel­low artists’ ex­pec­ta­tions of what pic­tures of the North should look like. The idyl­lic images of hunt­ing

and other tra­di­tional ac­tiv­i­ties that were char­ac­ter­is­tic of the ear­li­est Inuit art­works avail­able in the South rep­re­sented a way of life that has sub­sided un­der the in­creas­ing pres­sures of glob­al­iza­tion. Non-Inuit view­ers often look at the art of Inuit with nos­tal­gia, seek­ing in it a last glimpse of the dis­ap­pear­ing nat­u­ral world. As writer Sarah Mil­roy noted in a memo­rial piece about An­nie in The Globe and Mail:

It may be a while be­fore the true nature of [An­nie]’s death is un­der­stood, and it is cer­tainly not for us to say she should never have taken that wild ride through that world of art and me­dia and com­merce. She had her glory days, and when we look at the legacy of work she left be­hind, the plea­sure and sat­is­fac­tion she en­joyed in com­mu­ni­cat­ing about her North­ern world is pal­pa­ble.¹

Ul­ti­mately, An­nie’s con­tri­bu­tion to Cana­dian and Inuit art his­tory is dif­fi­cult to quan­tify. Her ar­rest­ing images cap­tured the world’s at­ten­tion, crack­ing the glass ceil­ing and open­ing the door for other Inuit artists and their work to be in­cluded in dis­cus­sions of con­tem­po­rary art.

As the num­ber of artists, cu­ra­tors, cul­tural sec­tor work­ers, deal­ers, schol­ars and teach­ers ad­vo­cat­ing for Inuit art con­tin­ues to grow, An­nie’s work will serve to ex­pand the con­ver­sa­tion around Inuit art and its pres­ence in, or ab­sence from, our un­der­stand­ing of con­tem­po­rary art in this coun­try. An­nie was, fun­da­men­tally, a nar­ra­tor, and de­spite the pres­sures and pre­con­ceived ideas of what Inuit art is, her draw­ings will con­tinue to help us re­think what art from the North can be. There is much to cel­e­brate when look­ing at the pos­si­bil­i­ties An­nie’s work has af­forded us in think­ing through Inuit art in Canada and the world in new ways. Thank you, An­nie.²


1 Sarah Mil­roy, “Inuit artist An­nie Pootoo­gook’s work re­vealed the con­nec­tions be­tween us,” The Globe and Mail, Fri­day, Septem­ber 23, 2016.

2 Parts of this text will ap­pear in the ex­hi­bi­tion cat­a­logue for the tenth edi­tion of the Liver­pool Bi­en­nial of Con­tem­po­rary Art, Beau­ti­ful World Where Are You?


An­nie Pootoo­gook (1969–2016 Kin­ngait) — Morn­ing Rou­tine 2003 Coloured pen­cil and ink 51 × 66 cm

In­stal­la­tion view of An­nie Pootoo­gook: Cut­ting Ice at the McMichael Cana­dian Art Col­lec­tion, 2018

An­nie Pootoo­gook Sculp­tor with Pipe 2003–4 Coloured pen­cil and ink 51 × 66 cm

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