Alootook Ipellie was a talented illustrator and prolific writer whose practice celebrated Inuit cultural practices and drew attention to the negative impacts of colonialism. He presented a perspective on development in the Arctic that actively challenged notions of Inuit as untouched by modernity. Ipellie worked to change the narrative about Inuit through his writing and illustration, putting cultural resilience and survival at the forefront in the face of forced settlement and assimilation.
Born at an outpost camp in the Qikiqtaaluk Region (Baffin Island),NU, Ipellie spent his childhood on the land with his family . His grandfather, Ennutsiak, was a sculptor who shared traditional stories and myths with a young Ipellie that would deeply influence his artistic practice . He moved to Ottawa, ON in his early teens to attend school and, at first, struggled to adapt to the educational format in addition to being away from his family and his home . It was also during this time he first became interested in comics and visual art . Ipellie began to develop a strong graphic style that pulled from Inuit narrative traditions and engaged with political discourse.
After deciding to leave school, Ipellie started his career at Inuit Today as a translator, where he eventually transitioned into being a full-time journalist and, later, the editor for the publication . It was during this time he began to illustrate news stories or provide additional visual content for the publication, eventually receiving his first major monthly column focusing on his experience growing up in Iqaluit titled "Those Were the Days" . Additional serial comics—including Ice Box, which ran in Inuit Monthly, and Nuna and Vut, which ran in Nunatsiaq News—employed Ipellie’s characteristic sense of humour to highlight the important political and cultural issues that were affecting Northern communities . These comics informed Ipellie’s later graphic work, where he experimented with narrative forms—from multi-panel comics to single-panel political cartoons.
Alongside his graphic work, Ipellie was a prolific writer for many publications including the Inuit Art Quarterly, Inuit Monthly, Inuit Today, Nunavut Newsletter and Nunatsiaq News, where he headed his own column “Ipellie’s SHADOW”. As an activist and translator as well as a writer, Ipellie worked with the Tugavik Federation of Nunavut—an organization that pushed for the establishment of Nunavut as a territory—with a drawing by Ipellie gracing the cover of the Nunavut Land Claim Proposal .
Ipellie’s book Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993) built upon his earlier experiments and brought together his interpretations of Inuit myths and modern life. The book includes 20 short stories with accompanying pen-and-ink drawings—both composed by the artist. Together, Ipellie’s visual and written work seamlessly blended pop culture references and themes of cultural resurgence, in which he played a prominent role in the 1980s and 1990s .
While notably absent from many institutional collections, Ipellie’s drawings have been exhibited internationally at the Thayngen Cultural Centre in Thayngen, Switzerland and the Northern Norway Art Museum in Tromsø, Norway, among others. His first major career retrospective Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border will open at the Carleton University Art Gallery in fall 2018 before touring across Canada.