In the springtime, as the days become longer and the ice begins to melt, hundreds of migratory bird species fly thousands of miles to make their way to Inuit Nunangat. Flocks of auks, gaggles of geese and colonies of gulls all gather for nesting season until it’s time to go back South in the fall. The diversity of birds in the North serve as a source of sustenance and inspiration for many myths, legends and artworks. Today, we’re casting a bird’s eye view over some of the different ways our feathered friends have been featured in Inuit art.
Shirley Moorhouse Goose Reflecting (2010) Mixed media on wool 76.7 x 99.1 cmCourtesy Indigenous Art Collection, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada
Just like the goose in this wall hanging by Shirley Moorhouse, I find myself falling into a reflective and meditative state as I follow the swirling ripples in the water and flecks of golden light of the moon. Moorhouse's dreamlike images are made with an unexpected mix of materials, with eye-catching shells, earrings or other found objects added to her appliqued and beaded pieces, not unlike the way some birds gather found objects for their nests.
Peter Malgokak None For Me (1991) Stencil 76.2 x 55.9 cmCourtesy Northern Expressions
Looks like the early bird gets the...fish? As the title suggests, three waterfowl compete for some scrumptious fish. The subdued use of colour in this stencil print allows for subtle details like the mirrored reflections of the bird's heads (with or without fish) to stand out.
Elisapee Ishulutaq Untitled (Many Birds) (2009) Oilstick 57.2 x 76.2 cmCourtesy Marion Scott Gallery
A sea of cobalt blue—somehow both the water and the sky—is foregrounded by a flock of birds in this drawing by Elisapee Ishulutaq. The use of oil stick pastels allows for an intense saturation of buttery colour, highlighting the many colours found on the many birds in the North. Ishulutaq combines varying perspectives and scales of birds in one image, creating both a beautiful image and an archive of her life for future generations.
Myra Kukiiyaut Woman, Birds, Fish and Wolf (1969) Coloured pencilCourtesy iaf
This pencil crayon drawing by Myra Kukiiyaut shows a lively scene of overlapping birds, patterned in stripes and spots of contrasting electric shades. Kukiiyaut often featured birds in her graphic works, expertly encapsulating their movement and energy in busy but harmonious compositions.
Davidialuk Alasua Amittu Mythological Bird (1958) Stone 43.4 x 38.2 x 16.5 cmCourtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery
At over 40 cm high—an unusually tall sculpture for the artist—this mythological bird is monumental in both physical and energetic presence. Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, a highly respected storyteller, is known for works that transform oral legends into captivating images and sculptures. In this case, we have a moment of mid-transformation as a mother holding her child turns from human to a bird, or perhaps from bird to human?
Dorothy Anirniq Birds and Flowers (1981) Felt, embroidery floss and duffle 71.1 x 90.2 cmCourtesy feheley fine arts
Birds and flowers are synonymous with spring, a time for joy and wonder as the land changes in front of your eyes and seems to wake up from the dark days of winter. This wallhanging captures that buzzing energy with repeating shapes of black and yellow and embroidered blooms on the teal backdrop.
Aoudla Pudlat Flaming Bird (1982) Lithograph 45.7 x 58.4 cmReproduced with permission Dorset Fine Arts © The Artist
This fantastical full-spectrum bird is just one of many renditions of birds created by Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU based Aoudla Pudlat, known for his highly stylized graphics of our feathered friends. Filling up the page, this bird proudly displays its fiery plumes of red, orange and yellow. Pudlat cleverly creates depth with the semi-circular contour lines on the wings and body, giving us the illusion that this bird is also shaking its tail feathers at us.