For our 30th anniversary issue, the IAQ asked 15 leading figures in Inuit art to nominate an early-career artist to watch. In turn, those artists selected a senior talent who has inspired them. The result is “30 Artists to Know”, an expansive portfolio exploring the intergenerational, familial and community-based bonds that are made visible through art.
Julia Manoyok Ekpakohak b. 1968
Born in Ulukhaktok (Holman Island), a community known for its graphic art and needlework, Julia Manoyok Ekpakohak grew up enthralled by her grandmother Helen Kalvak's stories, translating them to paper through drawing. Kalvak taught her granddaughter that drawing can be both a means of expression as well as a means of support for her and her family.
Julia began printmaking in 1999, first with stenciling, a tradition which has strong roots in the community, then later with etching, a move which allowed Julia more control over her work and gave her a finished product that was closer to her drawings.
Kalvak was the original interpreter of stories through art in Ulukhaktok, and Julia’s artwork shares the same honest and direct depictions of life. Where they differ, however, is their subject matter. Where Kalvak, a trained shaman and community leader, was exposed to otherworldly themes, the experiences that Julia translates to paper are more domestic, involving children and the similarities and dissimilarities between northern and southern life. Julia’s works possess a quality of charm, highlighting the whimsy in everyday life. – Christa Ouimet
Helen Kalvak (1901–1984 Ulukhaktok), Dance, 1975, stonecut, 45.7 × 61 cm COURTESY FEHELEY FINE ARTS
Helen Kalvak, CM, RCA 1901–1984
I started making art when I was very young, maybe two years old. I learned from my grandmother Helen Kalvak. She made drawings, prints and wall hangings from sealskin. She used to tell me stories and then ask me to draw them. I would put them down on paper: a scene of a hunt, or travellers or animals and birds on the land or in the ocean. We would make drawings together.
My mother, Elsie Nilgak, and my grandmother told me that making artwork was going to help me provide for my family. That is very true for me today. I make carvings, crafts and prints, mainly stencils and etchings. Everything that I have done with my artwork is mainly what my grandmother and mother taught me. To this day, I still use the same patterns and techniques that I learned from them. I use materials I find out on the land to dye my own textiles because it is very costly to import dyes and other finished materials. Being raised in and living in Ulukhaktok my entire life, I try to use the traditional knowledge that I was taught. – Julia Manoyok Ekpakohak
Ouimet is an Inuit Art Specialist with Waddington’s Fine Art Auctioneers & Appraisers. With over twelve years in the Canadian art world, Ouimet has identified and written about countless Inuit works, including her Choice piece for our Spring 2017 (30.1) issue. She also maintains an educational website for collectors and enthusiasts at katilvik.com.
These profiles appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.