The No­madic and the Mon­strous: The Sto­ries of Vic­to­ria Mam­n­guq­su­aluk

The artist’s lines are sure. The char­ac­ters and their ac­tions are fixed in her mind. There is no sec­ond guess­ing. It is a story she knows well. —

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Chris Hamp­ton

With a body of work that con­tin­ues to speak to con­tem­po­rary is­sues of dis­place­ment, scarcity and com­mu­nity, this Fea­ture ex­plores the breadth of Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s de­pic­tions of the leg­endary Inuit wan­derer Kiviuq as well as scenes of hor­rific and hu­mor­ous beasts. Taken to­gether, these epic nar­ra­tives, spread across draw­ings, prints and wall hang­ings, of­fer pow­er­ful in­sights into the in­ter­de­pen­den­cies of a glob­al­ized world.

Since the mid-1960s, this Qa­mani’tuaq artist made the tale of Kiviuq, the eter­nal no­mad of Inuit leg­end, a re­cur­ring theme in her ex­pan­sive body of work, along­side a host of other beasts and spir­its from tra­di­tional sto­ries who both con­sume and are con­sumed. From chore­ographed draw­ings and stone­cut prints to in­tri­cate wall hang­ings, Vic­to­ria Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s (1930–2016) hu­mor­ous, hor­rific and nar­ra­tive works con­tinue to res­onate with con­tem­po­rary is­sues of mi­gra­tion, com­mu­nity, scarcity and in­ter­de­pen­dence.

“Have you seen Kiv­iok? You must have met him on your trav­els,” mas­ter sto­ry­teller Ku­vd­luit­soq from Ilivileq asked an­thro­pol­o­gist Knud Ras­mussen in the early 1920s. “Kiv­iok is an Inuk, a man like our­selves,” he con­tin­ued, “but a man with many lives.” Speak­ing from the other side of a cen­tury, or nearly so, I can tell you: I have seen Kiviuq.¹ He has made it all the way here.

The wan­der­ing shaman of Inuit leg­end, known from Green­land to Alaska (and per­haps be­yond), is said to have dis­ap­peared, to­ward the end of his odyssey, south into “the land of the white man.” Con­clud­ing his ren­di­tion of the Kiviuq story cy­cle, Ku­vd­luit­soq told Ras­mussen, who was on a mis­sion record­ing lo­cal leg­ends,

“We know no more to tell about him.” Only that be­fore his last life is over, he will re­turn home.

I learned the epic of Kiviuq from the art­work of Vic­to­ria Mam­n­guq­su­aluk (1930–2016). Ap­pear­ing reg­u­larly in the Qa­mani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, print se­ries from its in­cep­tion and pro­duc­ing art well into her 80s, Mam­n­guq­su­aluk vividly and vig­or­ously re­counted chap­ters from the hero’s jour­ney in coloured pen­cil, ink and tex­tile. These ef­forts were pre­sented be­side vi­gnettes from other tra­di­tional sto­ries told to her by her grand­mother when she was young, as well as ex­pe­ri­ences from life on the land. Her tellings—boldly coloured, pop­u­lous and fizzing with ac­tion—char­ac­ter­is­ti­cally de­pict scenes of hor­ror, hu­mour and ten­der­ness, of­ten at once. It seems fit­ting that her por­tray­als of brav­ery read al­most like su­per­hero comics, with long nar­ra­tive se­quences tran­spir­ing to­gether on the page.

I rec­og­nize the same joy in her work that I have felt from draw­ing: the way fan­tasy flows quickly and eas­ily from the pen­cil, as if a nerve runs straight from our brain through our fin­gers and out the graphite tip. The mon­sters that live on the sheet are the fears that live in our minds; the he­roes rep­re­sent our hopes. It is no sur­prise to me why su­per­heroes—whether they fly or travel by kayak, as Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s do—have been the sub­ject, across time, of so much ink.

A dawn­ing in­ter­est in the im­mense and to date over­looked out­put of the Sanavik Co­op­er­a­tive has re­cently be­gun to sum­mon her work from its rest in vaults and col­lec­tions. A se­lec­tion of Mam­n­guq­su­aluks were fea­tured at SITE Santa Fe’s SITE­lines 2018: Casa tomada bi­en­nial and a wall hang­ing is cur­rently on dis­play in the Win­nipeg Art Gallery’s Nivin­nga­ju­li­aat from Baker Lake ex­hi­bi­tion. The themes of her nar­ra­tive draw­ings—mi­gra­tion, scarcity and com­mu­nity—are con­tem­po­rary in any era. But they strike with spe­cial rel­e­vance at this mo­ment. As do the sto­ries of the great Inuk trav­eller, also cur­rently en­joy­ing broader vis­i­bil­ity with the Iqaluit-based Qag­giavuut!’s Qag­giq Col­lec­tive, tour­ing its stage pro­duc­tion Kiviuq Re­turns: An Inuit Epic again in 2019. As the work of the pro­lific graphic artist and tex­tile-maker reemerges, the leg­end of Kiviuq con­tin­ues its voy­age once again.

A daugh­ter of one of Qa­mani’tuaq’s most renowned artists Jessie Oonark, OC, RCA (1906–1985), Mam­n­guq­su­aluk was born near Garry Lake in what was then the North­west Ter­ri­to­ries (now Nu­navut).

She was raised by her pa­ter­nal grand­par­ents and lived on the land un­til mov­ing into the Qa­mani’tuaq set­tle­ment with her hus­band and chil­dren in 1963. She be­came in­volved in its fledg­ling art pro­gram: first, by carv­ing stone, then, by sewing tex­tiles and draw­ing.

Ac­cord­ing to Keeveeok, Awake! (1986), the only mono­graphic study of Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s work, she was en­cour­aged by Craft Of­fi­cer Jack But­ler to make draw­ings from the “old sto­ries” she had heard. Such de­pic­tions were once ad­vised against, both by Chris­tian mis­sion­ar­ies hos­tile to tra­di­tional be­liefs and by some within the com­mu­nity, wary of stir­ring spir­its. On the verso of one draw­ing, the artist wrote: “It is said that if you draw on the ice win­dow of the igloo, the im­age that you have drawn may come to life and pur­sue you in the night. As a re­sult, peo­ple were never to touch the ice win­dow at night.” An un­ti­tled, un­dated work in graphite and coloured pen­cil de­picts a mother de­fend­ing her child, his mark-mak­ing im­ple­ment still in hand, from the at­tack of a fanged and clawed mon­ster with a belly full of eaten heads. Such “old sto­ries” fed Mam­n­guq­su­aluk cre­atively, and when the first edi­tion of Qa­mani’tuaq prints were re­leased in 1970, eight of her draw­ings had been cho­sen, in­clud­ing three that told the sto­ries of Kiviuq.

The leg­end of the wan­der­ing Inuk is an­cient; it pre­dates Euro­pean con­tact in the Arc­tic. In 2004 re­searcher Kira Van Deusen fol­lowed in Ras­mussen’s foot­steps, lis­ten­ing to el­ders across Nu­navut tell the Kiviuq sto­ries fa­mil­iar in their re­gion. “Some Inuit be­lieve the great hero is still alive,” she writes. “They say he will die only when the world ends.” Oth­ers say Kiviuq is just a bed­time story for chil­dren.

Candice Hop­kins, co-cu­ra­tor of SITE­lines 2018, says she un­der­stands him as a char­ac­ter that “peo­ple can draw upon in times of so­cial ten­sion.” She men­tions a later adap­ta­tion, pub­lished in a Cold War–era comic book, where Kiviuq har­poons a Soviet satel­lite from the sky, so it won’t fall onto the set­tle­ment of Qa­mani’tuaq. “He’s one of those fig­ures who can be rein­vented de­pend­ing on the needs of a given time,” she says.

In many of the tellings I have en­coun­tered, the epic be­gins like this: The grand­mother of an or­phan who is bul­lied by ev­ery­one, ex­cept Kiviuq, de­cides to take re­venge against the peo­ple who mis­treated him. (In other ver­sions, Kiviuq him­self is the or­phan boy.) The grand­mother trans­forms the child into a seal and teaches him to hold his breath and to swim. The grand­mother tells the or­phan to go into the water and ap­pear by the shore, en­tic­ing the bul­lies into their kayaks, then to go into deeper water, care­ful not to get struck by their har­poons. Once the or­phan lures the bul­lies away from land, the grand­mother raises up a vi­o­lent storm, which cap­sizes the hunters’ kayaks and causes them all to drown, ex­cept Kiviuq, who washes ashore and is now lost, a long way from camp. Mam­n­guq­su­aluk re­vis­its the tale in mul­ti­ple works. For ex­am­ple, in the stone­cut and sten­cil print The Boy and His Grand­mother Tricks the Mean Peo­ple (1980), the storm is com­posed like a swirling gyre, suck­ing char­ac­ters into an icy blue chop. In an­other sim­i­larly ti­tled print, a bully’s boat is snapped in two, as the seal boy makes his es­cape. The im­age of Kiviuq flee­ing in his kayak—though it might al­lude to any num­ber of in­stall­ments in the cy­cle—ap­pears fre­quently across the artist’s draw­ings, prints and wall hang­ings.

An episode told some­times im­me­di­ately fol­low­ing “The Or­phan” chap­ter is one that seems to have struck Mam­n­guq­su­aluk par­tic­u­larly, and she re­turned to the story of the “Big Bee” of­ten. An un­dated graphite and coloured pen­cil work viewed from the Art Gallery of On­tario’s (AGO) print and draw­ing ar­chive is ti­tled sim­ply Qiviuq (n.d.). It presents the quin­tes­sen­tial Kiviuq tale, typ­i­cal in tone and struc­ture to many oth­ers: on the way home, he en­coun­ters a threat— nat­u­ral or su­per­nat­u­ral—but by his cun­ning, or some­times by magic, he nar­rowly es­capes to con­tinue his jour­ney. Here we also ex­pe­ri­ence the idio­syn­cra­sies that arise from oral tra­di­tion trans­mit­ted graph­i­cally and frozen by the page. The two cu­ra­tors, a press of­fi­cer and I worked to suss out the nar­ra­tive: “What is he do­ing?” “What’s in her hand?” “Are those heads?” “He must be next.” But the artist’s lines are sure. The char­ac­ters and their ac­tions are fixed in her mind. There is no sec­ond guess­ing. It is a story she knows well.

Af­ter drift­ing in his kayak for some time, Kiviuq lands in a for­eign place and finds a house near the shore. It is the home of the bee wo­man, who has as­sumed the form of a man-eat­ing troll. He climbs on top of the lodg­ing to peer down through a hole in the roof and finds the sor­cer­ess in­side tan­ning hu­man hide. He spits down through the open­ing to catch her at­ten­tion. She looks up to ex­am­ine the leaky roof, but her eye­lids are so heavy they fall in the way. She takes her ulu (wo­man’s knife) and slices off her own eye­lids. Star­tled, Kiviuq falls to the ground and lies there un­con­scious. She brings him in­side. When he comes to, warm­ing by the fire, the head of a pre­vi­ous vic­tim, set among a row of sev­ered heads nearby, speaks. It says: “Keeveeok, awake! And flee to save your own life.” Kiviuq heeds the warn­ing and runs, barely es­cap­ing the bee wo­man’s ulu, which she throws at him as he takes off again in his kayak. In some ac­counts, when her ulu hits the water, the very first coastal ice is formed, though Mam­n­guq­su­aluk gen­er­ally skips this de­tail. (Some spec­u­late the frozen coast was less crit­i­cal for those liv­ing in­land and who did not de­pend on hunt­ing sea mam­mals).

The same story is pre­sented in Qag­giavuut!’s Kiviuq Re­turns, as told by many el­ders. In this chap­ter, told by Made­line Ivalu of Iglu­lik, NU, once Kiviuq is alerted by the talk­ing skull, he sum­mons his guid­ing spirit nanuq (po­lar bear), who res­cues him from the bee wo­man. “We col­lected sto­ries from many Inuit el­ders across Nu­navut,” says Artis­tic Direc­tor Laakku­luk Wil­liamson Bathory, “some­times they told com­pletely dif­fer­ent sto­ries, some­times they told the ex­act same story. It was amaz­ing. Our sto­ries are that strong, just a scratch be­neath the skin and they are all there.” Though Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s work did not have di­rect in­flu­ence on the stage play, Wil­liamson Bathory ex­plains that it is an­other in­di­ca­tion how strong the im­agery of the sto­ries are. “Kiviuq is com­pelling be­cause he is a mere hu­man, who, by sheer willpower to travel, be­comes su­per­nat­u­ral. He was so cu­ri­ous, so open, so charis­matic, that peo­ple in all Inuit re­gions passed these sto­ries down over hun­dreds, even thou­sands of years.”

Aside from her de­pic­tions of Kiviuq, an­other draw­ing at the AGO steals my at­ten­tion and con­sumes it. Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s Gi­ant In­sect (c. 1980) hung in the gallery from fall 2017 to early 2018 dur­ing an ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plor­ing the bes­tiary of Mex­i­can film­maker Guillermo del Toro. It shows a ten-legged, bee­tle-like crit­ter, big­ger than a po­lar bear, with a head like that of a muskox. It has trapped a man in its jaws. Like an abyss or a black­hole, the char­ac­ters gath­ered round are pulled to­ward its maw. Whether by hunters, bears, wolves, snakes, spir­its or can­ni­bals, the acts of eat­ing and be­ing eaten form a mo­tif across Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s art. Women Eat­ing Lice (1979) fea­tures a chimera-like crea­ture crouched be­hind the tit­u­lar women, also ready to feast. Men Har­poon­ing Fish (n.d.) has the group gob­bling their

How peo­ple move and why they move, who be­longs, who doesn’t and who is mak­ing that dis­tinc­tion? These ques­tions were a very im­por­tant part of Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s work. For Inuit, mi­gra­tion was a way of life. —

catch straight from the water. Bat­tling with the Sea Mon­sters (1988) shows an Inuk swal­lowed by a sea ser­pent. AGO Cu­ra­tor of Indige­nous Art Wanda Nanibush re­minds me that through the 1940s and 1950s, Inuit of the Ki­valliq Re­gion, where Mam­n­guq­su­aluk lived, ex­pe­ri­enced pe­ri­ods of ter­ri­ble famine. It was ill­ness and food scarcity that even­tu­ally brought her fam­ily to move per­ma­nently into the Qa­mani’tuaq set­tle­ment.

Hop­kins also rec­og­nizes the theme. She views the acts not sim­ply as in­ges­tion, but in­stances of a greater sense of ex­change preva­lent through­out Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s creation. Things eat things. Things trans­form into dif­fer­ent things. Things ex­ist in­side other things. Hop­kins men­tions the print Flesh Eat­ing Mon­ster (1983), which was in­cluded in the Santa Fe bi­en­nial. It de­picts a gi­ant bird wear­ing an amauti (wo­man’s parka), ris­ing from be­hind a bear that has a hu­man face. Its belly is open and full of meat—fish, peo­ple and what might be cari­bou. On the bear’s out­stretched tongue, stands a man, bran­dish­ing a weapon. He ap­pears tiny. An­other man strikes at the mon­ster. An­other is car­ried away by a wolf. Be­tween the worlds of the hu­man, the an­i­mal and the spirit, “there’s al­ways this sense of in­ter­re­la­tion­ship,” Hop­kins says. This sense can be seen in ad­di­tional works in SITE­lines, like the print Snake Man (1982), where within the con­tours of the ser­pent’s long body emerge hu­man faces, legs and arms. Here, snake and man are not en­e­mies but are part of the same. The con­nec­tions con­struct an ecol­ogy. Ev­ery ac­tor has their part to play, not merely for the func­tion of a nar­ra­tive, but also in a broader un­der­stand­ing of life and sur­vival. One be­ing de­pends on an­other. Ex­is­tence is dy­namic. Ac­cord­ingly, Hop­kins refers to Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s draw­ings and wall hang­ings as “chore­ogra­phies.” They are fan­tas­ti­cally large and in­tri­cately co­or­di­nated move­ments.

It is for such ro­bust ex­am­ples of in­ter­de­pen­dence that Hop­kins sought to bring for­ward Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s art to­day, in some cases close to a half-cen­tury af­ter its pro­duc­tion. The work has a lot to tell con­tem­po­rary au­di­ences—per­haps more than ever—as no­tions of com­mu­nity grow larger and more global. Mi­gra­tion was an un­der­ly­ing theme last year at SITE­lines, she says. “How peo­ple move and why they move, who be­longs, who doesn’t and who is mak­ing that dis­tinc­tion?” These ques­tions were “a very im­por­tant part of Vic­to­ria’s work,” Hop­kins says. “For Inuit, mi­gra­tion was a way of life.” Fol­low­ing the land for re­sources, ex­pe­ri­enc­ing scarcity, re­lo­cat­ing, learn­ing new ways to sur­vive, such move­ment fig­ured large in Mam­n­guq­su­aluk’s time and was re­flected in her work. It is no won­der she made a muse of the eter­nal mi­grant. In this mo­ment of mass hu­man mi­gra­tion, as peo­ple move from out­side and within Europe, the Amer­i­cas and the Mid­dle East and ten­sions sur­round­ing bor­ders in­crease, her sto­ries do not feel 1000 years old or even 50 years old. They feel emer­gent.

I can tell you that I have seen Kiviuq. He has made it here.

And I do not an­tic­i­pate that his trav­els are yet over.

NOTES

1 The con­tem­po­rary spelling Kiviuq is used here. How­ever, the var­i­ous spellings recorded in pub­li­ca­tions, ti­tles and archival doc­u­ments are pre­served.

PRE­VI­OUS SPREAD Vic­to­ria Mam­n­guq­su­aluk (1930–2016 Qa­mani’tuaq)The Boy and His Grand­mother Tricks the Mean Peo­ple1980Pri­nt­maker: Mag­da­lene Uk­patiku (1931–1999) Stone­cut63.5 × 94.5 cm GOV­ERN­MENT OF NU­NAVUT FINE ART COL­LEC­TION COUR­TESY WIN­NIPEGART GALLERYBE­LOW Qiviuq n.d.Coloured pen­cil and graphite59 × 74 cmCOUR­TESY ART GALLERY OF ON­TARIO

RIGHT Bird Wo­man1977Col­oured pen­cil and graphite50.8 × 66 cm COL­LEC­TION WIN­NIPEG ART GALLERY

Keeveeok Awake! Be­fore 1971 Coloured pen­cil and graphite55.8 × 76 cm COL­LEC­TION WIN­NIPEG ART GALLERY

Gi­ant In­sect c. 1980Colour­ed pen­cil and graphite58.9 × 80 cmART GALLERY OF ON­TARIO Con­vers­ing with the Snake Spirit1987­Print­maker: Mag­da­lene Uk­patiku (1931–1999)Stone­cut and sten­cil 66 × 94.5 cm GOV­ERN­MENT OF NU­NAVUT FINE ART COL­LEC­TION COUR­TESY WIN­NIPEGART GALLERYLEF­TRIGHT

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.