• Feature

Helen Kalvak

Inuit Art Icons in Comics

Jun 10, 2020
by Napatsi Folger

This month’s comic is a tribute to the work of Inuvialuk artist Helen Kalvak, CC, RCA (1901-1984). For this comic, I made the choice to draw on Kalvak’s graphic work to highlight the vivid expressions often found in her many prints and drawings. The story told here is fictional, but is based on interviews and stories related to Kalvak’s legacy. 

Born into a traditional life outside of established Canadian settlements, Kalvak identified herself as a shaman prior to converting to Christianity. Featured in the Inuit Art Quarterly’s 2017 feature “30 Artists to Know,” and nominated by her granddaughter, Julia Ekpakohak, the importance of art for Kalvak was rooted in her family. The importance of art for Kalvak was deeply rooted in the idea that success for her as an artist was directly connected to success for her family. This resonated with me, growing up with struggling Inuit artists in my community and seeing how much work they put into incredible art that told stories. 

Until the mid 1990s there was limited access to Inuit storytelling through writing or film. Outside of the oral tradition, it was prints like Kalvak’s Nightmare (1967) that inspired my young imagination both to create art, and to seek out traditional knowledge from my Elders. In this comic, I wanted to depict the passing of that same kind of intergenerational storytelling using the bold lines and detailed facial expressions that distinguish Helen Kalvak’s work to this day.     FolgerNapatsiHelenKalvakComic1


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