The Inuvialuit Communications Society (ICS) released dozens of Inuvialuktun-language GIFs this month to bolster the language’s use in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region. Funded in part through the Canadian Roots Exchange, the GIFs are available through the GIF keyboard in Facebook Messenger.
Each GIF features an image designed by graphic artist Kyle Natkusiak Aleekuk on a black background, with the image labelled in Inuvialuktun underneath. The words and artwork were chosen to directly correspond with the Inuvialuktun language curriculum in schools, in consultation with the Inuvialuit Cultural Resources Centre and language consultants Dwayne Drescher, Alice Kimiksana, Alice J. Thrasher and Beverly Amos.
Aleekuk became affiliated with the project through his work as Art Director for Tusaayaksat Magazine. When Editor-in-Chief Jason Lau asked him to design the GIFs, “I jumped on board immediately,” he says.
Typically working with pen and paper, designing digitally was a new experience for Aleekuk, who used the app Procreate to design the pieces. Between June and the end of September, Aleekuk designed approximately 75 GIFs for the project.
He estimates that most of the image took 45 minutes to create—“there were some days where I just hammered away and did up to sixteen emojis in one day,” he says—while others took significantly more time.
One of the ones he found most difficult was the GIF for the Arctic Willow plant, a kind of ground willow that covers itself with a fuzzy cotton-type material used in traditional seal oil lamps. “Getting the quality of the fuzzy nature of this plant was very difficult,” he says. “I ended up having to do it three or four times. One of them ended up just looking like a hot dog with leaves underneath it!”
In the end, however, this one turned out to be a favourite, as did many of the fish he worked on for the project. “Those ones got great reviews, and people could pick up on them right away.”
Aleekuk attributes this instant recognition reaction to his experiences working on tattoo flash art, one of the mainstays of his artistic practice. “It's like a really simplified version of what you're trying to draw,” he says. Because the GIFs are viewed on a very small scale, the simplified versions were the best way to translate the objects, practising restraint to keep lines and shapes clear so the details didn’t become “muddy”.
Working on the project was a learning experience in multiple ways for Aleekuk, who found his digital drawing skills progressed, as did his Inuvialuktun language skills. Having to focus on individual words and create pictorial representations of them helped tie meaning to the words for him.
“I hope that the language learning aspect is a huge benefit for anybody trying to learn these languages, specifically the dialect,” he says. “It's warmed my heart.”