From the Chauvet Cave of Southern France to the internationally renowned art of Banksy, humans have been creating murals for over 30,000 years. In this Portfolio we celebrate the colourful murals of five Inuit artists across Canada.
Murals are powerful tools of community inclusion and representation. Like the Chicano Art Movement and the American Civil Rights community mural projects of the 1960s, the murals in this Portfolio function as a form of accessible public media that showcase their emittable cultural strength. These pan-regional artists have incorporated strong themes of Inuit culture from nalukataq, the traditional Inuvialuit blanket toss, to the bright skyline of Arviat, NU. In landscapes swallowed by white snow for most of the year, these paintings bring images of brilliant colour for everyone to enjoy. Both culture and landscape move these artists to create their large-scale public art.
And like the feast that culminates a successful hunt, these murals bring communities together. The artists who painted in their home communities tell stories of the children who watched them painting day after day, asking questions with the unapologetic curiosity that I associate with the tuutchi-faced Inuit kids of my own youth. These interactions highlight the significance of murals for small towns and villages as well as cities: they are public expressions of creativity where people of all ages can interact with artists while they work and be inspired to express their own artistry.
Artist Sheree McLeod was selected to design the unusual canvas of a satellite dish as part of the Inuvik satellite mural project, initiated by Natural Resources Canada in 2017. Proposed as a Canada 150 initiative, the project aimed to reflect the Government of Canada’s commitment to reconciliation. Organizers commissioned murals by artists to represent the three main Indigenous groups who inhabit the Inuvik area, which include the Inuvialuit, Gwitchin First Nation and the Métis. McLeod’s design was selected by the Inuvialuit Regional Corporation to represent the region’s Inuvialuit denizens.
McLeod’s design depicts a traditional blanket toss scene with the seer thrown high, scanning the horizon and the pullers colourfully clad in bright parkas holding a sewn hide blanket taut.
“The blanket toss brings people together. It’s a community event,” explains McLeod, who compares the utility of the satellite and the blanket toss, citing both as tools of surveying that allow us to see beyond the limits of our usual vantages, whether it be scanning for game or downlinking Earth observation data.
The satellites posed unusual obstacles for the technicians, who had to perform the work of installing the mural on the satellite within small windows of time while the antennas were between receiving signals. Adding to the challenge, work on the murals could only occur when the temperature was above 10ºC and when conditions were dry, otherwise the artwork would not adhere properly.
The colourful blanket toss depicted in this mural was unveiled and celebrated with a live blanket toss, performed by members of the audience, complete with pullers and a man scanning the horizon as he was thrust into the air. As the artist had initially only seen pictures of the satellites, seeing the complete work on such a large scale took McLeod by surprise. She can be heard saying in a YouTube video about the project shared by the Inuvialuit Communication Society: “I didn’t expect it to be that huge—I didn’t know this was that big.” One might liken the feeling to spotting big game on the horizon; a polar bear is much bigger, when viewed up close.
Feature was originally published in the Winter 2020 issue of the
Inuit Art Quarterly.