Inuit Art Quarterly
Supporting Artists to Create and Experiment
Since 2020, the IAF has recommended 22 artists for funding through the Indigenous Visual Artists Materials (IVAM) grant program, run by the Ontario Arts Council (OAC), for a total of $20,500 worth of opportunities for artists to create new works. Last year, funding from the program enabled photographer Katherine Takpannie to create a new series of 14 images titled Sedna (2021). Takpannie’s evocative photographs capture both personal reflection and a compository view of Inuit experience while drawing attention to contemporary social and political issues. Shortly after receiving funding from IVAM, Takpannie received a 2020 Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award and was included in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Canada and the 6th Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA). In this short interview, Takpannie shares how support from IVAM enabled her to stay connected to family, culture and homeland during the pandemic through the creation of new works.
IAQ: As you know, this particular funding stream—IVAM—is really meant to be as open-ended and flexible for artists as possible. You applied with a very specific project in mind. Could you speak a bit more about the series?
KATHERINE TAKPANNIE: My proposal was for a ser ies cal led Sedna that I had been wanting to create. When I attended Nunavut Sivuniksavut, I had learned so much history. The history class was one of my favourites. I’ve always been curious about our beliefs, pre-colonization and pre-Christianit y, as well as about Sedna. There was a line in Tanya Tagaq’s book Split Tooth (2018), where she wrote, “What will Sedna do when she hears of the seismic testing?” Mixing that Inuit histor y with the contemporary issues we face—that was the whole driving force behind the series. I was fascinated with that question.
IAQ: And you were working on this project in the middle of COVID-19 lockdowns, is that right?
KATHERINE TAKPANNIE: Working on this series during the pandemic was actually really helpful for my mental health. It was really hard to be isolating all the time, away from those that you love and care about—family, friends, the normal connections that we share. But connecting back to my culture and sharing it with others was very beneficial during that period. I was exploring the dichotomy of our societal values with the violent destruction of our homelands through resource extraction. I wanted to use the smoke grenades as part of the emotion, the feeling emitted from Sedna herself. The growing displeasure of that violent destruction—to make it tangible.
IAQ: I understand these works have resonated with people. Could you tell us a little bit about what’s happened since?
KATHERINE TAKPANNIE: The City of Ottawa has a direct purchase program and accompanying exhibition once a year. The city purchased Sedna #9 (2021) for the City of Ottawa Art Collection and included it in the exhibition Holding Pattern (2021–22). Works from the series were included in the exhibition Land Back curated by Michael Patten as part of the 6th Contemporary Native Art Biennial (BACA) in Montreal, QC. The Land Back movement aims to restore governance and stewardship over our territories for a sustainable future. So they felt the Sedna pieces fit perfectly into that. And I will be having a solo exhibit coming
Without dedicated funding for Inuit artists we get pushed to the side. It’s harder to compete in those pools just because of the numbers. Without this funding, this series wouldn’t have been created.”
up this September with Olga Korper Gallery in which the series will also be featured.
IAQ: Congratulations! That must be so encouraging to see audiences respond to the work in that way. Why do you think this sort of dedicated funding— that invites artists to make whatever they choose to make, whether it’s purchasing supplies or working on a particular project—is important?
KATHERINE TAKPANNIE: Applying to grants has been a newer process for me. I have only applied for a handful, IVAM included. It’s an experience that can be tedious and sometimes confusing. But it’s extremely worthwhile. And it has been extremely valuable in assisting me in creating art and then in sharing that art as well. Demographically, Inuit are a smaller group in comparison to First Nations and Métis artists.
That’s just demographics. Without dedicated funding for Inuit artists we get pushed to the side. It’s harder to compete in those pools just because of the numbers. Without this funding, this series wouldn’t have been created.
IAQ: One final question for you: if you were speaking to an early career Inuk artist who had never applied for funding, and who was thinking about applying for funding to do something like this, what would you tell them?
KATHERINE TAKPANNIE: Apply immediately, if not sooner! The very first time I applied for funding, I had someone—another Indigenous artist— mentor me, who basically walked me through the entire application. Ask for help if you need it. But it’s so beneficial, definitely go for it.
Determined to pursue as many forms of ar tistic media as possible, Iqaluit, NU–based multimedia ar tist Olivia (Akeeshoo) Chislet t explores drawing and throat singing as a means of realizing the more abstract feelings she has about her Inuk background. Through her command of form, line and colour, Chislet t distills the myriad of emotions that she feels as a self-identified “mixed Inuk.”
As a child, Chislett found herself drawn to the villains and monsters in popular culture, from science experiments gone wrong to prisoners, because they were typically portrayed as non-conforming, misunderstood queer characters who did not embody Western beauty standards. This, in tandem with the ar tist’s interest in the depiction of Inuit mythology, par ticularly the illustrations of mahahaas and qalupaliit by Babah Kalluk in Taiksumani: Inuit Myths and Legends (2004), led Chislett’s work to take on the perspective of the “bad guy.” As a neurodivergent queer person of colour who was bullied growing up, “I always felt for [the antagonists], because it was their situation that made them,” says Chislett. “Most of the time they are, in my opinion, justified in their anger, fear and outbursts.” 1
Inky Cap (2022) depicts the complex identities of her monsters as the anthropomorphized mushroom takes on a sombre feminine form. The character is both obscure and alluring as the pendulous extremities of the mushrooms conceal the identity of what initially appears to be an elegant croquis.
Although the final iterations of her work are digitally finessed, Chislet t ’s monsters are born on paper. “I feel a sense of control from drawing,” says Chislet t, “because I have so many pent-up emotions, and I feel like people would see me differently if I were to act on them. Whenever
I’m feeling angr y or sad or frustrated I can draw myself or my characters acting out—it feels cathar tic.”
Her process of establishing a concept on paper and then refining the drawings digitally is apparent in her latest comic book Stopping By Woods, published by Hecate Press. The comic tells the story of Emris, a young boy who reveals himself to be a monster when a friend injures themself on a hiking trip. Released this June, the 12-page publication displays delicate strokes of pencil drawing jux taposed with blocks of graphic pastel colours—a metaphor of sor ts for the societally imposed dichotomy of the gentle monster. In contrast to the monster’s harrowing fangs and skeletal exterior, swaths of peach and turquoise mirror his sensitive interior, prone to bruising yet irrepressible. The result is a beautiful lesson in compassion as the characters learn to embrace their differences.
The learning process has been central to Chislet t ’s ar tistic grow th. Encounters with ar tists in daycare and elementar y school taught her that careers in throat singing and drawing were possible. Chislett began her own journey teaching throat singing to fellow students at the age of 12. Today she continues to teach throat singing at a local high school, citing the passion held by teenagers as a driving force in ar t “no matter the medium.”
Continuing her survey of diverse ar t forms, Chislett par ticipated in the 2021 National Fur Design Competition in which her submission of a sealskin crop top, coordinating skirt and facemask was named one of 12 winning designs. As par t of her award, Chislet t is set to travel to Toronto Metropolitan University to par ticipate in a weekend-long fur design intensive. Following the success of her first solo comic, Chislet t ’s nex t pursuit is a longer comic narrative which will undoubtedly feature new amiable and empathetic monsters.
Alicia Bojkov is a German-Canadian ar t historian whose scholarship focuses on fin de siècle and early t wentieth-centur y photography. Bojkov holds a Master of Ar ts in Ar t Histor y from the University of Toronto and is currently the Collection Manager and Curatorial Assistant at Corkin Galler y in Toronto’s Distiller y District.
This Profile was made possible through suppor t from RBC Emerging Ar tists.
Through her command of form, line and colour, Chislett distills the myriad of emotions that she feels as a self-identified “mixed Inuk.”