Suicide Story (before 1992)
I first encountered Akpaliapik’s Suicide Story at the Art Gallery of Ontario. Carved from a massive whale bone, one side of the sculpture depicts an old man’s face—stubbly beard, puffy cheeks, bushy eyebrows, braided hair, mouth gasping to reveal imperfect teeth, eyes gazing upward, his brow deeply furrowed. He is flanked by ghosts and embryonic figures. The other side depicts two other faces—perhaps elderly women— bracketing a hole in the bone. Their faces are calm but intense, containing the experience of long lives. Inside the hole is a man suspended on a string. He is falling. His face is contorted and his eyes blinded in horror. A rifle bullet pierces his chest. The women serve as witnesses to this moment. Two bear paws grant them the strength needed for their immense task. The overall impression, for me, is of a man trapped by an overwhelming sense of solitude, unaware of figures both ancient and unborn, who are present for him in ways that he does not see. It is a deeply moving work of art. The word “empathy” is suggestive but seems inadequate here. The artwork flows. It slides across different planes of experience. It allows things to appear, which may be invisible during life’s darkest moments.
BELOW Manasiah Akpaliapik (b. 1955 Ikpiarjuk) —Suicide Stor yBefore 1992Whale bone, horn, teeth, baleen and rifle car tridge37.4 × 87.4 × 32.2 cm