Montreal-based painter and textile artist Tanya Innaarulik hails from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik. We have been friends since the summer of 2004, when I met her in Quaqtaq. I recognized immediately how talented she is, and I continue to see how immensely gifted she is and how dedicated she is to her work.
Innaarulik, who also goes by Tanya Mesher Jones, began with acrylic on canvas paintings in 2004. With works influenced by the Kuujjuaq landscape and its culture, from pine trees to fish to the aurora borealis, her vibrant paintings are full of colour. And, although she has attended the Nunavik Arts Workshops in the past, Innaarulik is a self-taught artist.
Limited access to artistic materials combined with the high costs of shipping in the Arctic makes realizing projects a challenge for artists living and working in the North. This can also restrict individual artistic development. When Innaarulik relocated to Montreal in 2010, it significantly changed the course of her work. With access to the materials to match her eager imagination, her art began to evolve and she hasn’t stopped progressing since. She has successfully experimented with canvas, clothing, footwear and custom cutout sheets of plywood, and has painted over 6,000 pieces in her first twelve years as an artist. I was especially proud when she was selected to paint a 6-foot tall Coca-Cola bottle that was showcased during the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, alongside fourteen other Canadian Indigenous artists. Her resulting piece, featuring rainbow coloured narwhals, was also made into a collectible pin.
Tanya Innaarulik stands next to a sculpture she was commissioned to decorate at the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics.
In 2015, Innaarulik founded OKA, fulfilling a lifelong dream to become a clothing designer. The brand, whose name stands for Original Killer Apparel, is fitting for Inuit to wear, since we hunt to live and live to hunt. Her clothing for both men and women is a beautiful graphic clash of urban and Inuit culture and is always in demand. She also designs accessories, including beaded earrings, iPhone cases, baseball caps and Christmas ornaments, among many other items. It is safe to say that hers is a household name across the Canadian North.
Tanya Innaarulik is an inspiration with her artwork, her capacity to grow as a businesswoman and her sober lifestyle. She has donated OKA pieces to the Projets Autochtones du Québec and the Montreal Native Friendship Centre. To date, she’s been included in a handful of gallery exhibitions and will undoubtedly have a solo exhibition in the future. And, as her dynamic and colourful work has spread across the North, it’s also begun to take its rightful place in the South. A continuously evolving talent, Tanya Innaarulik is an artist to watch.
This piece originally appeared in the Summer 2016 issue of Inuit Art Quarterly.
Innaarulik and other artists will be at Northern Lights 2020 in Ottawa February 5th to 8th.