“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