Many prints tell stories of legends and personal events, but sometimes the story behind the creation or circulation of a work can prove almost as interesting. May Akulukjuk Lonsdale’s 1980 stonecut Loons Curing the Blind tells a tale well-known to those familiar with Inuit art and culture. A young hunter, skilled and quick, often returns home with many animals to be prepared and eaten. His mother resents the work she has to do and in an act of malice, rubs blubber in his eyes while he sleeps. When the boy wakes he is blind. Helpful loons cure the boy by pulling him through deep water many times. With his vision restored, the boy takes revenge against his wicked mother.
Artists from across Inuit Nunangat have retold this story in numerous media–dozens of prints, many sculptures and even a film. Lonsdale’s print version of the event, however, has a story of its own. Loons Curing the Blind was rejected by the CEAC in 1980. It was the first time Lonsdale’s prints were reviewed by the Council and two of her four prints were rejected. It is hard to imagine why this print –with its crisp black lines and beautifully stencilled blue water–was rejected, but like many decisions made by the CEAC, the exact reason is unknown.
Between 1980 and 1983 five of Lonsdale’s prints were released and three were withheld. One of Lonsdale’s prints was of the 68 prints from Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung) rejected by the CEAC in 1981. The mass rejection devastated the artists of the community, and it may have been a contributing factor for Lonsdale no longer working in the studio after 1983.
Following a burst of highly skilled creative output, her work stopped circulating. For many artists who follow a similar trajectory, their story ends there, but for Lonsdale there is a happier ending. Following a thirty-five year absence from the Annual Print Collection, two of the artist’s prints were included in the 2018 Panniqtuq Print Collection. I can only hope that with the judgements of the CEAC long behind her, we will continue to see more of this talented storyteller’s work.
– John Geoghegan
This article is part of our Feature series "What Gets Lost: The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council's Rejected Prints".