Whalecome! Today we’re paying tribute to one of the most enchanting creatures in the ocean. Arctic whales come in all shapes and sizes, from the long-jawed bowhead whale to the melon-headed belugas.
These giant marine mammals play an important role in Inuit culture, both as a major food source and a way to light the qulliq, a traditional oil lamp used to keep warm and bring light to the home. Today let’s take a look at 7 whale portrayals in Inuit art.
Tim Pitsiulak Whale Reflections (2011) Coloured Pencil 49.5 x 63.5 cm REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS COURTESY SPIRIT WRESTLER GALLERY © The artist
Inspired by the mysterious nature of beluga and bowhead whales, Tim Pitsiulak created many iconic drawings featuring these animals. As a hunter, Pitsiulak carried an intimate knowledge of the land and wildlife around him, resulting in highly detailed pencil crayon drawings. In Whale Reflections (2011), a beluga and her calf swim just below the surface, outlined only by the dapples of light reflecting off their smooth skin.
Malaya Akulukjuk Orange Killer Whale (1978) Tapestry 124.5cm x 96.5 cm COURTESY WADDINGTONS
Woven from threads of red, orange and hot pink, this energetic orca is sure to turn heads with its neon hues. Much of Malaya Akulukjuk’s work is concerned with landscapes or portraits of spirits, but this is a rare example of an animal study from the artist. Drawing inspiration from her dreams, experiences and stories, many of Malaya’s works, including this one, were translated into prints and tapestries at the Uqqurmiut Centre for Arts and Crafts in Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU.
Barry Pottle Muktaaq (2012) Digital Photograph COURTESY THE ARTIST
Pass the soy sauce! Nunatsiavut artist Barry Pottle gives us a close-up shot of muktaaq, a feast of raw whale skin and blubber full of vitamins and protein. Part of a photo series titled “Foodland Security”, Pottle explores his knowledge and experiences of Inuit country food in an urban context, underlining the inextricable link between food and culture.
Agnes Nanogak Goose The Exhausted Raven (1984) Stencil 50 x 65.5 cm COURTESY WADDINGTONS
In this bright and cheery print, Agnes Nanogak Goose tells a whale of a tale featuring an exhausted raven. The raven, after marrying into a family of geese, becomes tired after flying for miles and miles over the sea. Needing a rest, the raven dives towards the first shape he sees on the ocean and flies directly into a whale’s blow-hole! Inside the whale’s belly, the lucky raven stuffs himself on the whale’s insides.
Joseph Senungetuk Yesteryear's Seasons (1973) Woodblock 46 x 72 cm COURTESY ANCHORAGE MUSEUM
By layering headlines of a local newspaper with images of whales, umiaqs and 19th century whaling ships, Joseph Senungetuk weaves a narrative addressing the divide between Indigenous subsistence hunting and commercial whaling. Like many of Senungetuk’s bold, highly textured woodcut prints, this piece seeks to reflect Inupiaq worldviews and the spiritual connection with marine mammals.
Davidialuk Alasua Amittu Two Whales in a Net (1973) Sculpture COURTESY IAF
Whale, what do we have here? Looks like a fortunate hunter has caught not one, but two whales in his net! Davidialuk Alasua Amittu’s expressive artwork often tell tales of survival and the hunt inspired by oral storytelling traditions. In this sculpture, Amittu adds detail by engraving a cross-hatched fishing net, emphasizing the organic shape of the whales emerging from the dark stone.
Ekidluaq Komoartok Singing Beluga (1992) Print COURTESY IAF
Did you know that belugas are excellent singers? Sometimes called “canaries of the sea”, beluga whales are known for their high pitched vocalizations. It appears this fellow, with his bulging grey eyes and gritted teeth, has had enough with the squawks and squeals of the four devious looking belugas framing his face. That sure would be overwhale-ming to hear all day long!