• Feature

Saimaiyu Akesuk

30 Artists to Know

Nov 06, 2017
by IAQ

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.

Saimaiyu Akesuk b. 1988
Kinngait, NU 

Picture this: an enormous tropical spider, a bird wearing striped leotards, a blimp-shaped lemming in bubble gum pink. These are a few of the graphic images from the hand of Saimaiyu Akesuk, a young Kinngait (Cape Dorset) artist who is rapidly gaining a worldwide reputation for her energetic and audacious prints and drawings.

At first glance, Saimaiyu’s works are reminiscent of the simple bold images of elders like Sheojuk Etidlooie and Papiara Tukiki. However the similarities are deceptive. Unlike her forbearers, Saimaiyu’s work has an urban sensitivity that combines elements of Arctic imagery with Hollywood creations and balloons from the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.

With loose bounding lines, she draws monumental looking depictions of common birds, animals, transformations and insects and then fills in the shapes with pure, luscious, fruit juice colours and vigorous scribbling and crosshatching. The results are images that are contained yet expansive, intimate yet celebratory and, even on a small scale, larger than life.

Saimaiyu’s prints were first introduced to the public in the 2013 Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection, and, in the years since, she has gone on to exhibit in solo shows in Canada and the US. – John Westren

AkesukLatcholassieOwlLatcholassie Akesuk (1919–2000 Kinngait), Owl, c. 1967, stone, 15.2 × 22.9 × 7.6 cm COURTESY WADDINGTON'S AUCTIONEERS & APPRAISERS
Latcholassie Akesuk 1919–2000
Kinngait, NU 

I was never into art. I found it very boring. I was taking a class with Ningiukulu Teevee, and I would doodle and colour during class. She kept bothering me and asking me to get paper, so one day we went to the co-op shop together and that’s when I started drawing.

When I got home, I stared at my paper for two or three hours and didn’t know what to do. My late grandfather Latcholassie Akesuk’s carvings came to my mind. He used to make his birds, so that’s what I drew. I draw them from my mind; I don’t need to look at photos or books. I used to find them kind of funny because I didn’t understand the concept of art as a kid. I always think about him now, when I am doing my art. It seems like every time I draw there is a little bit of him there.

I think a lot about my art—who inspired me and who was an artist when I was a kid. My step-grandfather is Qavavau Manumie, and I used to watch him drawing and colouring when I was younger, so I think he has inspired me in some way too. – Saimaiyu Akesuk

John Westren
Westren is Manager at Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto, ON, the marketing arm of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. For over three decades, Westren has focused on supporting a strong and viable market for Inuit artists. He has been an active reader of the Quarterly starting with our first issue in 1986 and is a longtime supporter.  

These profiles appeared in the Fall 2017 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. 3
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