Mary Mariq Kuutsiq was born near the Back River region in Nunavut. She spent her childhood on the land, and came to Qamani’tuq (Baker Lake) sometime in the 1970’s . Adapting her traditional skills after settling by the co-op, Kuutsiq used her traditional knowledge of sewing clothing to begin sewing wall hangings, a popular art form at the time. Working and exhibiting her work alongside many other prominent textile artists from the region, such as Jessie Oonark, Kuutsiq’s work shares similar stylistic patterns to other textile artists. With bold colour and hand-stitched borders, Kuutsiq shows her technical prowess, yet it is her subject matter that is in a style uniquely her own.
Looking Out From the Tent (n.d.) has people and animals at play. Bright colours and smiling faces depict a happy mood; Kuutsiq’s humorous hand is with birds, people and fish occupying the same space. The grey stroud fabric is a neutral anchor to vibrant appliqué duffle in reds, pinks, and yellows. Stroud is a strong fabric that is heavily woven, and holds embroidery well. Kuutsiq’s unique hand evolved with her practice, and her tight stitches flowed and created pattern with an illustrative quality. Springtime activities abound this idyllic scene, with women setting up a summer tent, another man fishing, and a man playing with a dog in the top right corner are stitched with an array of colour.
Kuutsiq’s unique talent lay in her toy making, for which she won an award for Toy Sculpture in 1974 in the exhibition “Crafts from Arctic Canada”. Four Toy Birds: Mother and Young (n.d.) is a grouping of a larger bird, with three smaller ones crafted from fabric and intense, all-over hand embroidery. Delicate straight stitches cover each bird in a dense pattern so that the fabric underneath is covered completely. Bright colours and a chevron pattern create a plumage for each bird. Highly imaginative and varied in scale, Kuutsiq’s toy sculptures are at once playful and demonstrative of her skill.
Kuutsiq enjoyed a long and prolific career, with her work included in many international travelling exhibitions. Her work is held in the public collection of the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. In 2006, one of her wall hangings was presented as a gift to Nelson Mandela on the Governor General of Canada’s state visit to South Africa . Kuutsiq passed away in 2011.