Arctic Art Adventure

On September 23, 2003, I boarded an Air Inuit Dash-8 commuter Turboprop, headed for Inukjuak , Nunavik . This twin-engine plane, with a capacity for 37 passengers, or 29 or 21 when adapted for cargo, took me through turbulent skies to an unforgettable 17-day teaching adventure. I was hired by the Makavik Corporation to give a woodcut printing class at the Annual Nunavik Artistic Workshops.

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White building on the right: printmaking studio

The printmaking studio
My first challenge was to set up a printmaking studio in a small, multi-purpose building that had last been used for a rummage sale.

My journal entry for the following day reads:

“Practical problems in the studio have been solved. All the florescent lights work; there is heat; the sink has been unclogged; the leak in the roof has been patched; the plywood covering the window has been screwed into the frame. Once the room hit 15 degrees it felt tropical.”

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Students
I taught eight students, ranging in age from 16 to 65.
They flew in from Salluit, Quaqtaq, Kangirsuk, and Kangiqsualujjuak. Two of them lived in Inukjuak. One student was a professional carver, and the others had little artistic experience.

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Angelina and Elisapee

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Andrew

Although the students did not know each other, there was a natural camaraderie between them. The Inuit community in the Canadian Arctic feels like an extended family. I was comfortable with the group, basking in their chatter– a pleasant blend of Inuktitut and English. I got used to the rhythm of their frequent cigarette breaks, their easy laughter, and their ups and downs.

Tragic stories are never far away up north. Two of my students had to deal with news of a suicide back home, committed by a teenager. Students comforted each other. A couple of the older women were particularly strong and supportive. I stuck to the task at hand. Art was not an immediate cure; it worked more like a natural remedy, taking its own sweet time to heal the soul.

Inukjuak Coop Hotel
From my room at the Inukjuak Coop hotel, I could see a piece of Hudson’s Bay, rocky tundra and a tapestry of coral-colored lichen. I had an Igloo SpaceMate mini fridge and a drawer full of dry food that I brought up from Montreal, including dehydrated soy that found its way into numerous dishes that I cooked in the community kitchen.

There were other transient guests such as construction supervisors and a marine biologist who went on walrus hunting expeditions with the Inuit and came back with anecdotes such as the one about how some Inuit youth repaired a VCR by defrosting it over a Coleman stove.

The hotel was comfortable and I slept well, except for the nights when the wind howled so loud I had no other choice but to dress in layers and go out to watch the northern lights, described in my journal as, “Glow-in-the-dark veils being wrung and twisted by an invisible hand in the sky.”

Inukjuak
When I wasn’t teaching I spent time either walking or driving around in a pick-up.
I often strolled on the beech, a stretch of sand crisscrossed with 4-wheeler tracks.

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On the land

One Sunday, the community of Inukjuak offered the teachers an excursion. We navigated in two motorized canoes down the Innuksuak River to an enchanting bay. The open space of the rolling tundra took my breath away. So did the wind that bit through my Nepalese hat. Abraham, an elder, along with Johnny and his little brother, Andrew, pitched a big, white tent while the rest of us explored. Barthana, the carving teacher from Igloolik, spotted a caribou carcass. He determined that it had been killed the previous day and that we could eat it. When we sat in the tent, sipping tea and eating pieces of the boiled meat that we dipped into salt that had been poured onto a plastic bag I said to Abraham, “mamuktu,” delicious.

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Siasi Smiler Irquimia

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Two prints: Lizzie Puttayuk

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Left: Sarah Kaitak
Right: Andrew Nulukie

Student Exhibition
One of the highlights of the workshops was the student show, held in the gym of the community centre. I was impressed with the prints. What gave me even greater pleasure was to see the joy beaming from my students. The whole community came to this exhibition, newborns to elders. Finally I could see the faces of Inukjuak, which often resembled a ghost town during my walks. My students greeted the public like seasoned artists, shaking hands and explaining techniques. I had done my job.

Much artwork sold that night, to locals and to white folk. After I returned home I corresponded with several students. I even met three of them in Montreal at various times. After I left, Siasi sold so many prints that she was able to buy a new fridge and stove! Her next project was to set up a printmaking studio in Inukjuak.


Final Journal Entry

“It is my last night, unless fate has other plans. I walked on the beech tonight. Wind, precipitation trying to become snow, and a tent lit up like a jack-o-lantern against the blue-jean sky. Inukjuak, I take with me a piece of your spirit. I carry you snugly, the way mothers tote their babies in their fur-trimmed amauti hoods– a place to dream, a place to grow.”

Talleen Hacikyan

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