Make no bones about it—skeletons, synonymous with the haunting holiday of Halloween, also play a crucial role in Inuit art. Often used as a material in sculpture and even in structures, bones are also a rich source of inspiration, owing to the frequent presence of skeletons in Inuit legends and stories. We’re going beneath the flesh to take a look at 7 artworks that cut to the bone.
William Noah The Vision of a Man Cutting Snow Blocks (1978) Serigraph 55.9 x 76.2 cm COURTESY DAVIC GALLERY OF NATIVE CANADIAN ARTS
Working himself to the bone! William Noah depicts a man cutting ice blocks in order to build an igloo in this colourful print. Noah is known for his carefully rendered, x-ray-like images of humans and wildlife. With their skeletal system and internal organs exposed, these figures are a reference to the shaman’s ability to rid themselves of their flesh, often for the purpose of flying without the extra weight.
Nick Sikkuark Untitled (Shaman Travelling) (2000) Stone, bone, antler and hide 34.3 x 29.8 x 25.4 cm COURTESY MARION SCOTT GALLERY
This guy looks like he has a bone to pick. I often find Nick Sikkuark’s shaman sculptures have a powerful and frightening presence, and this is no exception. This travelling shaman, carved from bone, antler and other organic materials, is even holding a large bone in his hand. I wonder where this fleshless figure is travelling to, and what he will do when he gets there.
Floyd Kuptana Untitled (2012) Collage COURTESY THE ARTIST
In this skull-buster of a collage, Floyd Kuptana cuts and pastes flesh and bone onto a painted canvas, arranging the parts to create an unearthly beast of many limbs, complete with blood-red nails and hollow eyes. Kuptana has used his signature energetic style to create another world of humour and horror for us to get lost in.
Lucas Aaluk Standing Figure atop a Skull (n.d.) Stone 14 x 7.6 x 17.1 COURTESY WADDINGTONS
What an eerie ‘skull-pture’ by Lucas Aaluk! With his feet firmly planted and arms held high, this figure appears triumphant standing atop a skull, perhaps feeling as if he has defied death? Aaluk’s bold and expressive carvings often feature the recurring motif of the skull, offering a commentary about spirituality, life and death.
Lucy Meeko The Story of a Man Who Lost All His Flesh (1974) Serigraph 52.9 x 73.6 cm COURTESY IAF
Was that a skeleton rifling through my closet? This silkscreen print from Lucy Meeko tells the story of a man who refused to heed the advice of others and ate some berries cursed with a bad spirit. He proceeded to lose all of his flesh and his clothes, no longer fitting him, dropped to the ground. Moral of the story? Always listen to your friends.
Jennie Williams Nalujuk Night in Nain (2016) Photograph COURTESY THE ARTIST
This bone-chilling photograph by Jennie Williams captures a frosty moment of fear in Nunatsiavut. Nalujuk Night comes every year in January to Labrador, where spirits called Nalujuit come in from the eastern sea ice to punish the bad and reward the good. Community members dress up as Nalujuit in fur coats and sinister masks, often carrying a big stick.
Ruth Annaqtuusi Tulurialik Shaman Family (1986) Stonecut 66 x 94 cm COURTESY NORTHERN IMAGES
How would you feel if you had a skeleton for a sister? Ruth Annaqtuusi Tulurialik depicts a frenzied shaman family in this print, each family member in a different state of transformation. Their bodies sprout seaweed green fingers and purple fish heads as the figures perform handstands and stand on each other’s shoulders. One shaman has completely shed their flesh, leaving behind a spooky skull and razor-sharp teeth. The expression on the relation’s face below looks less than impressed, which never fails to tickle my funny bone.