• Choice

Spiders, Insects and Other Creepy-Crawlies

Jul 19, 2018
by IAQ

At the peak of summer the days are long, the skies are sunny and spiders and insects are out in full force. From the spring 2018 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly we are sharing 5 Works, which highlight a few artists interpretations of sometimes pesky, sometimes friendly, critters.

Michael Massie, CM, RCA

Anyone familiar with Nunatsiavummiuk artist Michael Massie’s work knows that the root of his artistic practice is tied to coming up with clever titles and wonderful backstories for his sculptures and teapots. The Endurance Game tells the story of three mischievous brothers trying to outlast each other during a caribou hunt, when mosquito clouds are at their thickest. This figure is of the first brother to attempt the game, using a fresh hide as a protective blanket against the onslaught. In Labrador, where people often put on fly nets to wash their vehicles, it’s a familiar feeling to wear bugs on every square inch of your body; running to escape them is the only recourse when we all inevitably lose the game.

- Bryan Winters, Igloo Tag Program Coordinator

Helen Kalvak (b. 1901–1984 Ulukhaktok), Summer Scene with Flowers and Insects, 1970, felt-tip pen on paper, 45.5 × 60.8 cm  COLLECTION Winnipeg Art Gallery
Helen Kalvak, CM, RCA

I’ve never seen a moth the size of a man or a worm the size of a child, and maybe Helen Kalvak (1901–1984) didn’t either, but in the height of the summer, when insects are buzzing, chirping and stinging, they can take up so much mental energy that they may as well be the size of a caribou or a small car. In this electric felt-tip pen drawing, Kalvak shows two men cautiously approaching a swarm of creepy-crawlies. Are they friendly, or are their motives sinister? Kalvak’s marks are short and mostly vertical, giving her drawing incredible texture and vitality. Kalvak was trained as an angakkuq (shaman), and although the title Summer Scene with Flowers and Insects gives no indication of the following, perhaps the insects are an angakkuq’s spirit helpers, which might explain their unusual size.

- John Geoghegan, Senior Editor

Unidentified artist (Kangiqsualujjuaq), Ice Worm, c. 1970, antler, 2.5 × 15.2 × 2.5 cm  Robert and Judith Toll Collection, Peary MacMillan Arctic Museum, PHOTO Dean Abramson
Unidentified Artist

Very little is known about ice worms outside of the fact that they can survive and even thrive in conditions that would kill most other living things. Although less than popular as subjects among Inuit artists, ice worms are significant cultural creatures. Often featured in stories as revolting parasites, the darkened centre of this work creates a visual whirlpool, luring in the viewer’s gaze, just as the worm might draw blood from its host. However, scholars Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten have also noted that worms can be helping spirits and symbols of transformation. In this context, the upward movement of the worm can be read as aspirational, stretching or reaching toward a new beginning. As we welcome the move from winter to spring, this work seems to be a fitting metaphor to capture this regenerative transition from death to new life.

- Claire Christopher, Editorial Assistant

Janet Kigusiuq (1926–2005 Qamani’tuaq), Untitled, 2005, wool and embroidery thread, 23 × 24 cm
Janet Kigusiuq, RCA

If people think of Arctic insects at all, they are probably the impressively large bees and flies immortalized by artists in works on paper (and occasionally in nature documentaries). Smaller insects, like those stitched into this wall hanging, may not loom as large in the public imagination, but they are no less present. Janet Kigusiuq’s (1926–2005) composition creates a sense of both anticipation and insidious intimacy: large numbers of small lice ring the work, waiting for the opportunity to extend their infestation. Her expert stitching imbues them with a realistic sense of movement, their legs seemingly scurrying on top of the duffle, transforming a bright, charming wall hanging into something more ominous and far more interesting.

- Alysa Procida, Executive Director and Publisher

Sheojuk Etidlooie (b. 1929–1999 Kinngait), Untitled (Three spiders), 1998/99, coloured pencil and graphite 66.7 × 22.9 cm  COURTESY Marion Scott Gallery
Sheojuk Editlooie

Although it was brief by any measure, the career of graphic artist Sheojuk Etidlooie (1929–1999) was both unique and illustrious. Coming into her practice late in life, Etidlooie was featured in every Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection between 1994 and 1999, and garnered major acclaim for her drawings, entirely selling out her first exhibition in 1998. Works such as Untitled (Three spiders) remind us of the artist’s distinct visual vernacular: rotund, voluminous forms, often abstracted, rendered in coloured pencil and set against expanses of empty space. Included in Northern Line: Drawings by Sheojuk Etidlooie (2007), this work is indicative of the artist’s approach to composition, whereby singular elements often float, or in this case dangle or dance, front and centre.

- Britt Gallpen, Editorial Director

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