• Feature

10 Works of Motherly Love

May 10, 2021
by Jessica MacDonald

The canon of Inuit art is replete with images of mothers: carrying babies in their amautiit, soothing nightmares, playing in the snow. Mothers play a vital part in the lives of their children, even when they're all grown up. Today, we celebrate motherly love: this powerful bond between mother and child.


Eli Elijassiapik
Mother and Children (c. 2009) Steatite 11 x 7.5 x 5.5 in
Courtesy Spirit Wrestler

Someone has her hands (and hood) full! Eli Elijassiapik has given us a mother with multiple small children, all requiring her attention at once. The mittened hands dwarf the bodies of her babies and even the mother’s own head as they wrap around the children, suggesting perhaps that although she is busy, everything is under control.


Eva Talooki Aliktilik
Mother with Child (n.d.) Stone and glass beads
Courtesy IAF

The apple of her eye. Adorning the child figure with an elaborate set of beaded tassels that cover its whole body, with this sculpture Eva Talooki Aliktiluk places baby front and centre in the eyes of both mother and viewers.


Silas Kayakjuak Mother and Child (n.d.) Antler 5 x 3 x 3.5 in
courtesy spirit wrestler gallery

The cheery upturned faces and open mouths of this mother and child duo by Silas Kayakjuak show off Kayakjuak’s carving skills, rendering fine details with precision down even to the movement of the fur around the amauti hood, which seems to rustle in an imaginary wind. Kayakjuak has devoted much of this piece to capturing the amauti, a central garment to Inuit child-rearing which allows a mother to carry her baby in her hood, thus conserving body heat and freeing her hands.


Helen Kalvak
The Little Hunter (1982) Stonecut 38.5 x 41.5 cm
Courtesy Canadian Arctic Producers

I want to be just like you when I grow up! The overhead view in this print by Helen Kalvak, CM, shows a would-be hunter abandoning his miniature attempt at an iglu to come back to the warmth of his mother. In the home, industrious tools like an ulu, qulliq and sewing supplies lie nearby as she comforts her child. The finely decorated clothes she has produced are larger versions of the ones the child wears—perhaps in preparation for the day he grows up?


Billy Gauthier
Mother and Child (n.d.) Serpentine and alabaster 11 x 9 x 4 in
Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery

Insetting detailed alabaster faces into a serpentinite hood, sculptor Billy Gauthier has presented a mother watching over her baby as it sleeps. The mother’s face is crossed by tunniit (or tattoos) that are often used to symbolize life accomplishments. Baby’s face, in contrast, is a blank slate, waiting to be populated by the life to come.


Germaine Arnaktauyok
Quiet Time (2005) Etching and Aquatint 19.5 x 18 in
Courtesy Inuit Gallery of Vancouver

NEVER wake a sleeping baby. Germaine Arnaktauyok has captured a moment of calm in the life of a mother with a small child, time to reflect as she gazes at the face of her sleeping baby. The maternal gaze is one of the subjects Arnaktauyok has returned to frequently throughout her artistic career, depicting over and over again a sense of powerful serenity emanating from a maternal figure taking care of her young.


Michael Massie
Nightmares of Amayugyug (n.d.) Anhydrite, bone, ebony, lignum vitae, mahogany and bloodwood 15.5 x 10.75 x 7.75 in
Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery

And here’s what happens if you do wake a baby. On the face of this piece by Michael Massie, a commonplace scene unfolds—awakening from a nightmare, a child jumps into his mother’s arms for comfort and reassurance. But the other side of the sculpture tells a different tale: an Amayugyug’s face appears in the backside of the mother’s hood, holding onto the child. Amayugyugs are one of many child-snatching monsters used to warn Inuit children of the dangers of venturing too far from camp. Massie was inspired by Uqsuqtuuq (Gjoa Haven), NU, sculptors Judas Ullulaq, Uriash Puqiqnak and Nelson Takkiraq in creating this work.


Victoria Mamnguqsualak
The Bear Cares for Adoptive Mother (1990) Print
Courtesy IAF

Mothering is not a one-way street. As this print by Victoria Mamnguqsualuq makes clear, children take care of their parents too, once they get old enough. Two polar bears here take care of their adoptive mother, towing a makeshift sled and hunting seal to provide for her.


Mattiusi Iyaituk
My Mother Kept Me Warm in Her Amauti (n.d.) Serpentine 10 x 7 x 4.5 in
Courtesy Spirit Wrestler Gallery 

Doesn’t the title just say it all? Mattiusi Iyaituk has captured a smiling baby in the hood of mother’s amauti, snug and warm. There is a wealth of love and gratitude here, the bond between mother and child nestled as snugly and warmly together as their physical bodies are nestled inside Iyaituk’s stone amauti.

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