Damien Iqual­laq

Inuit Art Quarterly - - PROFILE - by John Geoghe­gan

“Ap­par­ently, the things I like to make aren’t all that pop­u­lar,” claims Damien Iqual­laq on a re­cent tele­phone call from Iqaluk­tu­ut­tiaq (Cam­bridge Bay), NU. He explains his favourite sub­jects to carve are spir­its, Nu­li­a­juk, muskoxen and fig­u­ra­tive work. He carves them with in­cred­i­ble de­tail in un­usual, ex­otic ma­te­ri­als, im­ported from across the cir­cum­po­lar North.

Iqual­laq de­vel­oped an in­ter­est in art­mak­ing as a teenager in his home­town of Uq­suq­tuuq (Gjoa Haven), NU. Grow­ing up, watch­ing his grand­fa­ther Nel­son Takkiruq (1930–1999) and oth­ers from the com­mu­nity carve, he felt com­pelled to be an artist. Iqual­laq ini­tially be­gan carv­ing in Uq­suq­tuuq, how­ever, his pro­duc­tion flour­ished when he moved to Iqaluk­tu­ut­tiaq in 2007.

Qual­ity carv­ing ma­te­rial can be dif­fi­cult to find in the High Arc­tic, es­pe­cially in Iqaluk­tu­ut­tiaq, “where peo­ple don’t har­vest carv­ing stone,” explains Iqual­laq. While this may dis­cour­age some artists, it pushed Iqual­laq’s cre­ativ­ity. Mam­moth ivory, whale tooth, pet­ri­fied wood im­ported from Rus­sia and stone from Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, and Uq­suq­tuuq are only some of the ma­te­ri­als Iqual­laq has in­cor­po­rated into his ex­pres­sive and unique works.

Iqual­laq is a mas­ter of his ma­te­ri­als, but ivory is best suited for his in­tri­cate carv­ing style. With it, he ob­tains in­cred­i­ble de­tail even on an ex­cep­tion­ally small scale. Carv­ings like Muskoxen (2018) re­veal Iqual­laq’s abil­ity to im­bue his work with in­cred­i­ble move­ment and tex­ture–their qiviut (wool) is ruf­fled by the wind. The work also high­lights Iqual­laq’s deft abil­ity with lit­tle-used ma­te­ri­als like mam­moth ivory. “Mam­moth ivory is not a new ma­te­rial,” Iqual­laq explains, “peo­ple have been work­ing it for a long time, but I’d say it is new to the Inuit art world. I am one of very few Cana­dian Inuit artists to work with it.” Sourced from friends liv­ing in Siberia, the tusks of this long-ex­tinct mam­mal are cov­eted by Iqual­laq due to their sub­stan­tial size, which is much larger than those of wal­rus or nar­whal. As his in­ter­na­tional clien­tele grows, mam­moth ivory is also an ideal al­ter­na­tive, as it can be ex­ported from Canada more eas­ily than other marine mam­mals that are pro­hib­ited un­der the Marine Mam­mal Pro­tec­tion Act.

Along­side lo­cal fauna, Inuit cul­ture and tra­di­tional leg­ends are the sub­ject of many of Iqual­laq’s most rous­ing works. In re­sponse to the resur­gence of tat­too­ing in his com­mu­nity, Iqual­laq cre­ated Tra­di­tional Inuit Tat­toos (2016)—two pow­er­ful arms emerg­ing from solid rock that are wrapped in beau­ti­fully in­laid cop­per kakiniit (tat­toos). The work is a tes­ta­ment to the re­silience of Inuit cul­ture and, equally, to Iqual­laq’s in­ge­nu­ity and cre­ativ­ity as an artist, al­ways look­ing to ex­per­i­ment and im­prove his tech­niques. As we end our call, Iqual­laq pauses: “I am go­ing to be carv­ing for the rest of my life.” I, along with the nu­mer­ous sup­port­ers Iqual­laq has and the many more he is sure to amass in the com­ing years, will be lucky if he does.


Damien Iqual­laq(b. 1988 Uq­suq­tuuq/ Iqaluk­tu­ut­tiaq)—Muskoxen2018Mam­moth ivory and muskox horn7 × 35.6 × 10.2 cm OP­PO­SITETra­di­tional Inuit Tat­toos 2016Stone and cop­per 61 × 35.6 × 22.9 cm COUR­TESY INUITSCULPTURES.COM

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