• Feature


Learning From Kiakshuk

Sep 25, 2019
by Nakasuk Alariaq

Spending the first half of my life in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, I learned the oral histories of local leaders, both spiritual and political, that have shaped our small town into the community it is today. The story surrounding Kiakshuk (1888–1966), a noted artist and one of the last practicing angakkuit (shamans) in Kinngait, and his eldest son Lutka Qiatsuk (1928–2004), a skilled craftsman and printmaker, was always one of my favourites. 

Born in the late nineteenth century, Kiakshuk was witness to the rapid changes Inuit faced from the early 1900s onwards, many of which he captured in his numerous drawings, prints and carvings. His authority and importance in the community was revered, most notably by fellow graphic artist Pitseolak Ashoona, CM, RCA (c.1904–1983). Pitseolak considered Kiakshuk one of the most significant elders and graphic artists of her time, stating in her autobiography, “Because Kiakshuk was a very old man, he did real [Inuit] drawings. He did it because he grew up that way, and I really liked the way he put the old [Inuit] life on paper. I used to see Kiakshuk putting the shamans and spirits into his work on paper.” His works continue to resonate today, offering a unique view of traditional ways, not only of camp life, but also of the supernatural, elements of our culture that fell out of practice as a result of the growing presence of the Anglican Church and the “modernizing” of lives in the Arctic. 

By the late 1950s both Kiakshuk and Lukta had begun working with James Houston, who had set up an arts program in Kinngait some years before which eventually became the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. Collaborating with Kananginak Pootoogook, RCA (1935–1910), Iyola Kingwatsiak (1933–2000) and Eegyvudluk Pootoogook (1931–2000) on experimental prints, Lukta was chosen by Houston to help with the initiative due to his keen sense of style and his skill with his hands.

In 1984, at the end of his career, Lukta had cut and printed over 200 prints, including fifteen based on his father’s drawings. Despite retiring from printmaking, he continued to produce traditional tools, drawings and sculpture for the next 20 years. Like his father before him, Lukta lived a long life and experienced traditional ways living in seasonal camps before settling in the community of Kinngait.

KiashukLoadingFurBales Kiakshuk Loading Fur Bales (1966) Printmaker Lukta Qiatsuk, Stonecut and stencil 63.5 x 87 cm

Lutaaq Qaumagiaq, Lukta’s grandson and namesake, told me that Kiakshuk had offered Lukta his angakkuq abilities. The elder artist was willing to teach his son the magical songs, healing techniques and powers he had carried with him his whole life. Lukta declined his father’s offer, telling his ataata he did not need to be an angakkuq to succeed in life. While Kiakshuk shared other important teachings and beliefs with his children, Lukta desired to create a legacy of his own that still payed respect and homage to his father, his culture and traditions. 

The teachings that Kiakshuk shared about hunting, survival and providing food and support for one’s family were passed down to Lukta, who passed them on to his children and grandchildren before he passed away in 2004, teachings that he had learned directly from one of Kinngait’s last angakkuit. Yet, it was Lukta who translated Sea Monsters Devouring Whale (1960), my favourite of Kiakshuk’s supernatural prints. This spectacular black and navy stonecut captures an underwater scene in which a giant bowhead whale is being devoured by two large monsters, figures so big that they have already devoured the whale’s head and are about to swallow the rest in giant, toothy bites. Though Lukta ultimately rejected the more spiritual teachings of his father, it appears that through their collaborative printmaking Kiakshuk found another way to pass along this knowledge to his son and his community.

This Community Spotlight first appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

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