Josie Pit­se­o­lak


Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Janet Pit­si­u­laaq Brew­ster

I can smell fish dry­ing on a rack and the faint scent of burn­ing heather waft­ing around a sum­mer camp sur­rounded by an ex­panse of nuna (tundra) stretch­ing in ev­ery di­rec­tion as far as the eye can see. Josie Pit­se­o­lak’s col­lec­tion of minia­tur­ized ev­ery­day items from an Inuit sum­mer camp has the power to evoke these senses even if, un­like my­self, the smell of the ocean is no longer in your nose from har­vest­ing last night’s fish nets.

Minia­tures (c. 2004–6) evokes a sense of won­der too. How did he man­age to cre­ate these re­mark­ably ac­cu­rate minia­tures? A child­ish sense of plea­sure, tinted with adult nos­tal­gia, wells up in­side me. I just want to aqaq them. More im­por­tantly, how­ever, this col­lec­tion bridges the gaps be­tween tra­di­tional Inuit cul­tural out­put and the con­tem­po­rary ma­te­ri­als of Inuit ar t to­day, while shift­ing the lens through which his art is viewed.

Pit­se­o­lak is an artist who clearly ab­sorbs the sub­tleties of his sur­round­ings. As a re­sult, his work is thought­ful and unique.¹ Com­bin­ing tra­di­tion, his­tory and the artist’s lived ex­pe­ri­ence, these minia­tures are no ex­cep­tion. The tools are tra­di­tional im­ple­ments we have used in our sum­mer camps for cen­turies. The food items could be found in Inuit grub-boxes of the midtwen­ti­eth cen­tury and harken back to a time when a sup­ply ship would come once a year to the North. Brands like Klik and

Pi­lot Bis­cuits be­came ra­tioned sta­ples for Inuit, as we were largely forced to aban­don our no­madic life­styles in favour of the per­ma­nent set­tle­ments the fed­eral gov­ern­ment de­sired. And when these items be­came more abun­dant with the ex­pan­sion of sea and air de­liv­er­ies, Inuit con­tin­ued to buy them with­out the need to ra­tion. To­day, many

Inuit have a nostal­gic as­so­ci­a­tion with these brands and their graphic pack­ag­ing.

By re­duc­ing the scale of these ob­jects, Pit­se­o­lak en­cour­ages me to re­con­sider the space they oc­cupy both phys­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally. They evoke a sad­ness in me—a re­minder that, for many Inuit, our re­la­tion­ship with the land has been in­ter­rupted. The re­al­ity is our use of tra­di­tional tools has steadily de­clined while our reliance on mod­ern con­ve­niences and di­ets has in­creased. Many are un­abe to af­ford the ex­pense of camp­ing in the sum­mer as it of­ten re­quires a boat, with a full tank of gas, as well as hunt­ing or fish­ing equip­ment and more. The minia­tur­ized tools along­side the diminu­tive pack­ag­ing from this col­lec­tion sym­bol­ize the move away from a reliance on nuna for sus­te­nance and a diet of inuk­siu­tiit (tra­di­tional foods)— nat­u­rally bal­anced by sea­sonal avail­abil­ity— to ra­tioning sup­plies in our grub-box to shop­ping for food at lo­cal stores.

De­spite the mel­on­cholic un­der­tone I find in this piece, I sense, as an Inuk artist, the dis­tinctly Inuit ap­pre­ci­a­tion for art at the fore­front of Pit­se­o­lak’s work. There is a sense of cu­rios­ity, ac­cep­tance, joy and en­cour­age­ment among Inuit artists that stems from wit­ness­ing other artists ex­press them­selves. Like cel­e­brated graphic artist An­nie Pootoo­gook (1969–2016), Pit­se­o­lak’s work re­lays a sense of courage and brav­ery, of em­pow­ered self-ex­pres­sion on his own terms: as an in­di­vid­ual, an Inuk and as an artist.

By cre­at­ing a work that is en­gag­ing to ob­servers and lay­ered with mean­ing, Josie’s minia­tures ex­em­plify a shift in con­tem­po­rary Inuit art that al­lows view­ers to see through a lens that frames both the in­di­vid­ual ap­proach of the ar tist as well as the col­lec­tive Inuit ex­pe­ri­ence. And, one that paves the way for Inuit artists to­day to find self-ex­pres­sion as they see fit.

Janet Pit­si­u­laaq Brew­ster is a mul­ti­dis­ci­plinary artist and Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor of the Nu­navut Arts and Crafts As­so­ci­a­tion.

By re­duc­ing the scale of these ob­jects, Pit­se­o­lak en­cour­ages me to re­con­sider the space they oc­cupy both phys­i­cally and his­tor­i­cally.

Josie Pit­se­o­lak (b. 1976 Mit timata­lik) — Minia­turesc. 2004–6Mixed me­dia Di­men­sions vari­able PHOTOS INUIT ART FOUN­DA­TION

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