The giant, furry bodies of polar bears pose a frequent, if intimidating, sight on the Arctic tundra. Their danger as the apex land predator of the region in contrast to their paradoxical potential usefulness as a food exerts an almost palpable pull on the senses, making the bear a powerful symbol captured skillfully by Inuit artists working across a wide array of media.
Here, we explore the many uses to which polar bears have been put by Inuit artists, ranging from art material to cultural trope and even as a tool for introspection.
Maureen Gruben Waiting for the Shaman (2017) Bones from polar bear paws and resin 22” x 1” Courtesy the artist
Moses Kasarnak Untitled (n.d.) Embroidery floss and duffel IAF Archives
Peta Tayara Polar Bear Container (n.d.) silver, horn (muskox), ivory, baleen and ink 4 × 3 × 2 in. Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery
Qavavau Manumie Wildlife Documentary (n.d.) Ink, graphite and coloured pencil on paper 20 x 26 in. Courtesy Madrona Gallery Reproduced with Permission Dorset Fine Arts
Polar bear skin stretching in Kimmirut (Lake Harbour), NU, in 1988 IAF Archives
Gideon Qauqjuaq Polar Bear Ring (n.d.) Ivory 1 × 1 × 0.25 in. Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery
Unidentified Artist Embroidered handkerchief with polar bear (n.d.) Cotton on Cotton Courtesy the Peary-Macmillan Arctic Museum, Bowdoin College
Padloo Samayualie Untitled (Tundra Rock!) (n.d.) Graphite and coloured pencil, 20 x 26 in. Courtesy Inuit Gallery of Vancouver Reproduced with Permission Dorset Fine Arts
Cark Hank Baleen Basket (with Polar Bear Cub Finial) (n.d.) Baleen and fossilized ivory 2 × 2 × 2 in. Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery