A woman with visible tuniit (facial tattoos) and kakiniit (hand tattoos) prepares to give birth, surrounded by other women and all that is needed to welcome the new life. Inuit art is rife with mother and child scenes, but Woman in Labour (1983) by Janet Kigusiuq, RCA (1926–2005), is one of very few prints to depict a woman about to give birth. This work is also rare as it is only one of two prints by Kigusiuq to depict a woman with traditional tattoos.
It would be interesting to learn more about the grounds on which this graphic was rejected by the CEAC. Was it withheld due to the technical skill with which the work was printed? The quality of artistry is in keeping with Kigusiuq’s creative output at the time, and is a fine example of Nancy Sevoga’s printmaking abilities. Was it rejected because of the subject matter? There is nothing of a graphic nature being depicted, just the care and preparation that goes into giving birth. Kigusiuq’s work at this time emphasizes intimate portrayals of quotidian activities, and a woman in labour is most certainly an integral aspect of daily life.
When images like this one were censored, women’s labours are made invisible. The loss of these stories significantly minimizes the contributions of women and diminishes the importance of motherhood in Indigenous communities.
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”.