• Feature

8 Arctic Landscapes by Inuit Artists

May 14, 2021
by Leanne Inuarak-Dall

What happens when you consider a place as someone who lives there, rather than someone who is visiting? Historically, most visual representations of the North were presented by outsiders like the Group of Seven, who often portrayed the Arctic as a barren land, devoid of life and ready for the taking. But this outsider perspective fails to encompass the beauty of Inuit Nunangat—a place for learning and sharing knowledge, building and maintaining relationships and for quiet introspection. For Inuit, that land is home. When Inuit artists represent their own landscapes, it reflects that deep connection to the land through their lived experiences. Previously, we've considered how Niap's watercolour paintings compare to those of Frederick Varley. Today, we're showcasing 8 diverse ways Inuit artists have depicted their homeland. 


Ooloosie Saila
Untitled (Pink Sky) (n.d.) Coloured pencil and ink 29.2 x 28.6 cm
Reproduced with permission Dorset Fine Arts courtesy madrona gallery © The Artist

The vibrant landscapes by graphic artist Ooloosie Saila are brilliantly detailed and brimming with energy. Water, land and sky are broken down into jagged shapes, outlined in black and filled in with solid blocks of saturated colour. These jagged forms seem to breathe, imbued with life and spirit of nature.


Thomassie Echalook
Landscape of Inoucdjouac (1974) Stonecut 52.7 x 73 cm
Courtesy Fédération des coopératives du Nouveau-Québec

In this 1974 print, the community of Inukjuak, Nunavik, QC, is carved from an inky black backdrop. Careful linework details the local flora, contours of the land and newly built houses and powerlines. This tranquil scene serves as an important marker of place and time during an era of change. 


Maureen Gruben
Stitching My Landscape (2017) Performance documentation
Courtesy partners in art

With the help of community members, Maureen Gruben stretched over a thousand feet of red cloth across the sea ice, zig-zagged through 111 holes cut deep into the sea ice. This large-scale land performance links ideas of memory, healing and connection to the land, revealing as a striking image that literally mends the territory below. 


Nick Sikkuark
Untitled (Spirit Sky) (2004) Coloured pencil 31.8 x 48.3 cm
Courtesy marion scott gallery

Shamans, or spirits, often populate the landscapes depicted by Kugaaruk, NU, artist Nick Sikkuark. In this case, the magical phenomenon of the aurora borealis mutates into wild-haired sky spirits, their green light forms dancing across the night sky. Who is to say the northern lights aren’t a bunch of shamans having a good time?


Peter Salomonik
Ivory Birds Stone Cliff (1987) Stone and ivory
Courtesy iaf

In this sculpture, the land becomes both the inspiration and medium. The quarried rock is minimally treated, but for a few tool marks and nine shelves to fit nine ivory birds. This approach allows the natural texture of the stone to shine through, contrasting with the smooth white surface of this colony of migratory birds.


Tony Anguhalluq
Rocky Grassy Mountain in June (2012) Oilstick, coloured pencil and graphite 63.5 x 90.2 cm
courtesy marion scott gallery

The specificity of Tony Anguhalluq’s drawings help to capture the dynamic nature of the land. In June, the mountain is rocky and grassy—grey forms jut out from a sea of saturated, sparkling yellow. This same mountain may look very different in July, or from a different vantage point, emphasizing the constant shift and rhythm of the land over time. 


Bronson Jacque
Uncle Doug’s Wharf (2019) Oil 40.6 x 50.8 cm
Courtesy the artist

Nunatsiavut artist Bronson Jacque creates intimacy using atmosphere in this dreamy seascape. Mauvy-grey fog envelopes the scene, leaving only the dock and its contents in crisp detail. Pops of colour further direct our focus, perhaps invoking memories tied to these objects highlighted in orange, blue and green. 


Janet Kigusiuq
Arctic Landscape (River) (1999) Tissue paper and acrylic medium 57.2 x 76.2 cm
courtesy feheley fine arts

Hand-torn tissue paper in vivid colours is layered to create a near-abstract arctic landscape. Janet Kigusiuq's collage compositions are both imaginative and experimental, requiring a careful eye and open mind to discern water from sky, illuminating the endless possibilities of viewing and portraying the land.


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