The walrus is arguably one of the most fascinating animals in the Arctic. Known for their iconic tusks, whiskered moustaches and blubbery bodies, these enormous creatures are revered for both their power and as a source of sustenance. Their large scale—they can weigh over 1000 kilograms—and sharp tusks make them a formidable opponent for hunters. To celebrate this impressive marine mammal, we’ve taken a look at 6 different ways the walrus has been a source of inspiration in Inuit art.
Michael Massie family spirit (n.d.) Serpentinite, ivory, ebony, bone and bloodwood 11.4 x 16.5 x 8.9 cm COURTESY SPIRIT WRESTLER GALLERY
A gifted carver and storyteller, Michael Massie has managed to fit a trio of walruses into a single piece of stone! The artist describes this sculpture as a family of walruses, trying to coax a restless child to bed with a story. Using a variety of organic materials inlaid into the striated serpentinite, Massie gives a playful expression to each walrus, adding a comical family dynamic to this complex composition.
Henry Napartuk The Walrus Caught a Whale (1973) Stencil 49.5 x 62.2 cm COURTESY La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau Québec
What a whale of a day! It may be surprising to some to learn that walruses usually keep up their massive figures with a steady diet of clams, shrimp and mollusks, rather than with any larger sea creatures. This lucky sea cow sports a smug grin, holding the catch of a lifetime in his flippers. Napartuk’s work often features imaginative and fantastical animal stories, and this fortunate walrus that managed to hunt a beluga whale is no exception.
Ningiukulu Teevee Taimaitsumarmat - It Shall Be (2019) Coloured pencil 55.9 x 75.9 cm REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS COURTESY FEHELEY FINE ARTS COPYRIGHT NINGIUKULU TEEVEE
We couldn’t do a walrus story without mentioning Ningiukulu Teevee, for whom walruses have long been an inspiration. With titles like Glittering Walrus, Cozy Walrus and Tiptoeing Walrus, her works each envision a different aspect of a walrus’ personality. In Taimaitsumarmat - It Shall Be, Teevee uses brightly coloured pencils to fill the page with a pontificating walrus, a hand comfortably nestled between his moustache and tusks, deep in thought. I wonder what this sophisticated beast is pondering.
Couzyn van Heuvelen Walrus Lure (2015) Silver, fish hook, thread and brass COURTESY THE ARTIST
Using the walrus skull—a material which has historically been highly valued as a material to create tools and, more recently, sculpture from—Couzyn van Heuvelen has transformed this object into something unexpected. In a process that uses digital photographs 3-D printed in wax and cast in silver, Heuvelen creates a new “precious, delicate object” reimagined as a fishing lure, raising questions that explore the idea of value in relation to material and utility.
Francoise Oklaga Four Inuit Catch Walrus (1982) Serigraph 55.8 x 76.2 cm COURTESY IAF
As the title suggests, this print by Francoise Oklaga tells the story of four Inuit catching a walrus. The four hunters, whose expressions range from excited to ravenous, radiate from the shoulders of this amauti-clad hybrid walrus figure. The cheeky walrus seems to be in on the fun, sharing a joyous expression of his own. Oklaga’s bold use of colour and pattern explode in this playful image that speaks to the interconnected relationship between Inuit and wildlife.
Buddy Nutik Alikamik Walrus (n.d.) Muskox horn 15.2 x 10.2 x 20.3 cm COURTESY NORTHERN IMAGES
This curious sculpture by Buddy Nutik Alikamik reimagines the walrus in an unexpected material: muskox horn. Often used to carve elegant geese and cranes, the same natural curves are used here to emphasize the stout physique of this sea mammal— especially in proportion to his tiny, toothy head. The unique texture of this organic material perfectly mimics the slick, blubbery hide of the walrus, making for a perfect pairing of subject and material.