• Feature

5 Works of Art to Celebrate Nunavut Day

Jul 09, 2024
by Emily Lawrence

Happy Nunavut Day! On this day in 1993, the Nunavut Act was passed, leading Nunavut to become its own territory. To celebrate, we’re taking a look at five different artworks from the Government of Nunavut’s vast art collection, made by Nunavummiut from across the Kitikmeot, Kivalliq and Qikiqtaaluk regions. These works celebrate the breadth of creativity that has existed in the territory well before 1993 and continues to flourish today.  

Luke Anguhadluq April Caribou
Luke Anguhadluq April Caribou (1973) Stencil 31 x 48.5 cm

April Caribou 

Like many of Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, artist Luke Anguhadluq’s (1895–1982) prints and drawings, this piece gets straight to the point! In April Caribou (1973), a stunning and graphic multicoloured caribou sits at the centre of this sheet, just waiting to be admired. The animal itself looks like it was created through layering different shapes of stencils, resulting in an overlap of the translucent colours to create new hues that appear to have an airbrush-like texture. The deep purple-blue of the front legs and backside of the caribou contrast strikingly with the cadmium yellow of the belly and antlers. This print was made in an edition of 50, opening up the possibility of slight variations in the colouring and stencil placement—what might the other 49 look like? The front legs are also delightfully, though suspiciously, human. Whether these boot-wearing legs were originally intended for this caribou or not, they enhance the image tenfold. 

Pie Kukshout UntitledPie Kukshout Untitled (c. 1965–1974) Ceramic

This four-sided portrait in the round is an excellent example of the ceramic work made by sculptor Pie Kukshout (1911–1980). Kukshout moved between communities in the Kivalliq region throughout his life, eventually settling in Kangiqliniq, NU, where he became an early participant in the Rankin Inlet Ceramics Project in the 1960s. His ceramic work often depicts people, faces and animals, sometimes naturalistically and other times seemingly influenced by the otherworldly. In Untitled (c. 1965–1974) the artist takes creative liberties by depicting not one face, but four—on the same head. While we may never know if they are a series of self-portraits, based on the faces of real individuals or simply made up by Kukshout entirely, his entrancing use of repetition definitely inspires a host of interpretations by viewers. They have even been described as “psychedelic” and “prismatic”—certainly apt for this extraordinary piece! 

MaudieOkittuq_Sea-Goddess_GNWAG_2.78.11-abMaudie Okittuq Sea Goddess (1977) Duffle and embroidery thread 47.5 x 32 x 11 cm  

Sea Goddess

Sea Goddess (1977) by Talurjuaq (Taloyoak), NU, artist Maudie Okittuq is a unique interpretation of the figure commonly known in Inuit Nunangat as Nuliajuk. In Okittuq’s version, the half-woman, half-beluga wears a light-blue amauti and holds her baby near, accentuating her human side. Dots of red embroidery on her hands depict the loss of her fingers, as told in stories about Nuliajuk. Tunniit are also delicately embroidered on the doll’s face. The work was recently featured in the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq exhibition Kakiniit/Hivonighijotaa: Inuit Embodied Practices and Meanings (2022), curated by Jocelyn Piirainen and Aghalingiak Ohokannoak. Okittuq’s Sea Goddess celebrates tradition and motherhood, but it also speaks to her incredible artistic ability. While Okittuq is best known as a stone and whale bone sculptor, this soft sculpture offers a different perspective on where her creativity could go.

Martha Tickiq Untitled
Martha Tickiq Untitled (1979) Wool felt on duffle 69 x 85 cm 

This vibrant wallhanging by Martha Tickiq (1939–2015), who was a multidisciplinary artist from Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, is at first glance a colourful homage to the land, animals and people of the North. But what is going on in this scene exactly? Two figures, including one in a kayak, appear to chase off a pair of polar bears—the Arctic’s apex predators—in an impressive feat of bravery. As the bears escape by way of the river, three smaller figures crouch down by the river’s edge, understandably in fear. Amid all of this, a blazing sun watches on from behind the hills, perhaps indicating dawn, dusk or the looming midnight sun during the peak of summer in the Arctic. Through the use of bold colours like neon pinks, oranges and yellows against more subtle plains of green, blue and brown, Tickiq artfully conveys a sense of both terror and triumph.


Keeleemeeoomee Samualie Bird Human
Keeleemeeoomee Samualie Bird Human (1980) Stone 18 x 21 x 9 cm 
Bird Human

This moderately sized serpentinite sculpture made by Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, artist Keeleemeeoomee Samualie (1919–1983) depicts a figure that is half-human, half-bird. Samualie was among the earliest group of artists who began making art in Kinngait in the early 1960s. She held an active art practice for 14 years, creating many graphic depictions, primarily of birds but also other animals and camp scenes. In this slight deviation from what some consider Samualie’s typical subject matter, a contented-looking human face on the stout body of a bird perched on its feet and flanked by two outstretched wings. It almost looks like this bird-human is showing off its body, sculpted with a smooth stone with different-coloured veins crackling beneath the dark green surface. Samualie’s legacy lives on with her granddaughter Nicotye Samayualie and other grandchildren and family members who practice art today.

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