I respond so strongly to Walrus Surprises Hunter (1967) because it is not a typical work by Napachie Pootoogook (1938–2002), and it has a deep element of humour. The thought of a person in a kayak perched atop a giant walrus’s head is comical. But, if this were to happen in reality, it would be terrifying due to the dangers in encountering such a large animal. This piece says much about my culture. It speaks to the way Inuit often use humour as a strategy to lighten heavy subject matter. Napachie took an experience that would have been terrifying for the hunter and injected comedy within the scene as a way to grapple with the horrific situation.
This piece, and its rejection by the CEAC in the 1960s, also speaks to me because of my interest in living literacy. Living literacy or traditional Inuit literacy is about the ability to read symbols, codes and the environment. Members of the CEAC would not have had the same literacy that Inuit did in reading such works. And this is likely where the unfortunate misunderstandings and withholding of prints came from. It is disappointing to think that so many pieces were rejected because of differences in how people see the world. Ultimately, this work is not just a pretty picture. Napachie and the many others whose works were lost for decades are telling stories through their images. Though they have been kept from us, we are now able to hear them and learn from them once again.
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”.