Elisapee Ishulutaq Temela Oopik
Josie Pitseolak (1976–2018)
Josie Pitseolak was a talented, self-taught, multidisciplinary artist from Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), NU. Pitseolak started drawing at an early age and by his teens, after watching his father Philip Pitseolak work, began carving. In the ensuing years, he produced an expansive body of work, including highly realistic, tender portraits of his community, illustrations for two children’s books, sculpture, printmaking as part of the Nunavut 2000 Collection and jewellery. Pitseolak frequently experimented with new avenues and techniques in his practice—from combining marble dust and epoxy, to give the appearance of inlaid stone, to fashioning his own pool cue from caribou antler and sealskin, with narwhal tusk grip. This curiosity led the artist to pursue developing arguably his most noted body of work: his miniatures.
After carving a small qamutiik (sled), Pitseolak envisioned the multitude of minute objects that would fill it. A replica of the Nunavut mace, no larger than an eraser; a polar bear, small enough to grip the frame of a pair of glasses; everyday objects from Pilot biscuits to Tetley tea; and tools, including a saw, knife, ulu (woman’s knife) and more, easily placed in the palm of your hand. These and many other delicate and impeccably crafted objects that followed, drawn carefully with watercolour and pen, carry the artist’s humour, innovation and humility. “Pitseolak was an artist who clearly absorbed the subtleties of his surroundings,” wrote Janet Pitsiulaaq Brewster, Executive Director of the Nunavut Arts and Crafts Association (NACA). “As a result, his work is thoughtful and unique.” Pitseolak will be deeply missed by his family and community, remembered for his tender, revealing works at even the smallest of scales.
Elisapee Ishulutaq (1925–2018)
Renowned artist Elisapee Ishulutaq, CM was born in 1925 at Kagiqtuqjuaq, a camp on Cumberland Sound, where she lived a traditional life on the land until her family moved to Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU, around 1970. Here, she began making prints for the recently established Pangnirtung Print Shop and quickly became one of the most active artists in the community, contributing 13 prints to the inaugural Pangnirtung
Print Collection in 1973.
Ishulutaq’s prints are an incredibly rich archive and provide important knowledge and insight into traditional camp life. “I enjoy making prints of the old way of life. Sometimes I get nostalgic of the way we used to live,” she once said. Beginning around 2009, Ishulutaq began working in oil stick, a medium that allowed her to explore colour, scale and composition in ways that she had not been able to previously. “I always had the sense that she needed to express things about her past and what she was observing,” says her gallerist Robert Kardosh about these drawings. These works have become some of the most remarkable of her career: large-scale drawings filled with scenes from her youth, mixed with moments from today. Her work can be found in every major institutional collection in Canada, and in 2014 she was awarded the Order of Canada for her contributions to the cultural and economic health of her community as a role model and mentor.
Considering her legacy, the artist once said, “I try and make prints so that people will know about them, and so that the next generations, my grandchildren, my children and [other] people, would know of who I was and what I have gone through.” Ishulutaq will be remembered for foregrounding her experience as an Inuit woman and using her art to communicate with and teach future generations of Inuit.
Temela Oopik (1946–2018)
Born in 1946 in an outpost camp near Markham Bay on the south of Qikiqtaaluk (Baffin Island), NU, Temela Oopik was an accomplished, self-taught carver, who spent a majority of his childhood living on the land, where he learned traditional hunting and trapping skills. He would later settle in Iqaluit, NU, before relocating to Kimmirut, NU in 1978, where he continued to live and work. “I will carve for as long as I’m able too,” he once noted. “I’ll hunt when I’m not carving.” Like many hunterartists, Oopik translated his intimate knowledge of the land and the hunt into his work.
Oopik first began carving in 1968 and consistently worked to hone his skills, preferring files and axels over power tools. In 1970, two years after his early artistic explorations, Oopik participated in a competition and exhibition in Yellowknife, NT, as part of the Northwest Territories centennial celebrations. This was soon followed by his work being featured in major exhibitions at Lippel Gallery in Montreal, QC, and the Queens Museum in Queens, NY, in 1974, as well as being included in the Winnipeg Art Gallery’s permanent collection in Manitoba.
Objects, traditions and activities of life on the land dominate his body of work. “I’m always carving,” Oopik told the Inuit Art Foundation in 1994. “Ever since the first time I carved, I have always been carving.” His works reveal a deep respect and understanding of his subjects, such as in Kayaker (2010), which captures the artist’s skill in combining striking serpentine forms with ivory equipment and delicate leather details, and Domestic Scene (2016), which features a couple sharing in the preparation of a meal. Oopik leaves behind a rich legacy of work that celebrates and preserves the traditional knowledge with which he was so familiar.
The Inuit Ar t Quarterly was saddened to learn of the passing of Aqjangajuk Shaa during the production of this issue. A full tribute will appear in the Fall 2019 issue.