The Canada Council for the Arts announced today that Germaine Arnaktauyok is one of the 2021 winners of the Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts, the most prestigious distinctions for visual arts excellence in Canada. Arnaktauyok won the Artistic Excellence Award for her 60 years of contribution to the Canadian arts landscape, during which she has continued to explore and develop artistically and professionally.
An artist and writer from Iglulik (Igloolik), NU, who lives in Yellowknife, NT, Arnaktauyok’s work explores Inuit myths and stories, often centred on feminist narratives of birth and motherhood and larger cultural and policital issues affecting Inuit, such as colonization.
Her inspiration comes from her early life, both the legends her father told her and years she spent in a traditional camp as a child. “If you do legends, you have nothing to copy. You have to do it on your own,” she said about her inspiration in the video released alongside the award. Her work is also often deeply personal. “I try to put myself in the story,” she says.
Arnaktauyok is known for her unique drawing technique, which features fine coiled lines that often look like etching, but also works in other mediums like prints, paints and textiles and frequently experiments with new mediums.
“I was always drawing since I was little, and I never questioned it. I just kept going,” she said.
The Governor General Award win is one in a long line of accomplishments for Arnaktauyok. She has created two coins for the Royal Canadian Mint, one of which, The Drummer, was chosen to mark the birth of Nunavut in 1999. She co-authored and illustrated the book My Name is Arnaktauyok: the Life and Art of Germaine Arnaktauyok for Inhabit Media, and has illustrated many other titles for the Inuit-owned publishing company. In 1973, she created the puppet design for the celebrated stop-motion film The Owl and the Raven.
Arnaktauyok’s first solo exhibition took place in 1993, and she had had six subsequent solo exhibitions at institutions like the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Manitoba and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum in Iqaluit, NU. She was also featured on the cover of the Inuit Art Quarterly for the Winter 2010 issue.
“She has charted her own course and created her own unique visual language,” said Darlene Coward Wight, Winnipeg Art Gallery’s Curator of Inuit Art, who nominated Arnaktauyok. “Her lifelong interest in her own unique Inuit culture has been an inspiration to many younger artists.”
At age 74, Arnaktauyok is showing no signs of slowing down, quipping she’s “still at it.”
“I’m an artist all my life, and that’s the only thing I know how to do.”