• Feature

6 Panels That Prove Tivi Etook’s Genius

Oct 19, 2020
by Napatsi Folger

I feel a sense of connection with Tivi Etook, whose work and personality emanate the sense of humor and joviality that I strive for in my life and in my comics. Like Etook, I am also an artist and historian, so looking at his prints gives me a great sense of inspiration and something to strive towards in my future work. While reading about his process and early life, I was struck by the similarities he shared with other Inuit art icons. Like Helen Kalvak, Etook did not initially consider art as a worthwhile career, and like Jessie Oonark, he was constantly drawing even at a young age, when all he had was sand and a stick to create images. 

One of the burning questions I would love to ask if I had the chance to talk to all of the artists that we’ve featured openly and without fear of breaking taboos, would be their opinions on colonialism and the Inuit transition from traditional spirituality to Christianity. As a historian and a non-denominational Inuk, I have always been fascinated by the religious upheaval Inuit underwent in the last century. But as I grew older, it became clear that it was a forbidden subject, taboo and often incendiary if I asked the wrong people. 

“There were many spirits in former times and they influenced the lives of the people,” said Etok in 1976 [1] . “Although I do not want to believe or follow the old ways which involved these spirits, I feel that we should reveal the things which exist and should perpetuate the stories which are told about them.” This is an incredibly liberal attitude for an artist of his time, when non-Inuit were still very actively suppressing Inuit spirituality. It also calls to mind conversations I’ve had with many Inuit about religion. 

It impressed me in my twenties to learn that older generations of Inuit—those who knew shamans and experienced the old ways—often view beliefs more fluidly than other cultures. I had always supposed that people of different religions believed themselves to be absolutely right and others as false. But for many Inuit born before the 1970s, beliefs are not wrong or right, they are simply personal. I love that concept of accepting that while you may not follow a belief system, it is still real and valid for the person who does. Etook’s work and stories embody that concept to me and I am so honoured to be able to emulate his art and ideas in this comic.      

See the other Inuit Art Icons in Comics:

Pudlo Pudlat   Jesse Oonark   Joe Talirunili 

Helen Kalvak   Kenojuak Ashevak Karoo Ashevak


[1]  Myers (Mitchell), Marybelle 1976 “Tivi Etook: Printmaker,” in Tivi Etook: In the Days Long Past. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Quebec  

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