Harry Egotak’s (1925–2009) print Birth of Jesus (c. 1962) is a rarely seen glimpse into the early years of printmaking in Ulukhaktok (Holman), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT. Inspired by the success of early print releases from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, artists worked with Father Henri Tardy to create the community’s first collection of six prints that were submitted to the CEAC for evaluation in 1962. As recordkeeping in the community is uneven, it is impossible to determine with certainty that this print was submitted at that time, but it likely was as it bears the hallmarks of why the entire collection was rejected: the sophisticated use of backgrounds and three-point perspective.
This work offers a local take on the Nativity. Joseph is pictured in the process of building Mary and the baby Jesus an iglu. The structure curves around the pair in a protective embrace that mirrors her tender cradling of the newborn. The thick lines and bold blocks of colour contrast with the slight, smiling features of the happy family, creating a lightness that permeates through the scene.
The CEAC felt that the print displayed undue influence from Tardy, surprisingly not in subject matter so much as technique. Their interest in keeping Inuit graphic production “authentic” translated into a limited view of what constituted appropriate technique for northern artists. This meant that the artists were discouraged from exploring the full range of stylistic approaches available. Though the community has been home to many great artists, who employ a wide range of techniques, this inauspicious beginning set an unfortunately limiting precedent to artistic expression that took time to overcome.
This Choice first appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly as part of the article “What Gets Lost: The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council’s Rejected Prints”.