Earlier this week, in a virtual ceremony hosted by the Inuit Art Foundation and the Winnipeg Art Gallery-Qaumajuq (WAG-Qaumajuq), Saskatoon-based artist, writer and designer Tarralik Duffy was announced as winner of the 2021 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, which comes with a cash prize of $10,000, as well as a 2023 solo exhibition, catalogue and residency at WAG-Qaumajuq.
The multi-talented Duffy creates iconic works that often reimagine Western pop culture through an Inuk lens. When I spoke with her this week, she broke down the stories, inspiration and process behind her art, and what these 5 works say about her practice.
Tarralik Duffy Kuuk (2020) Digital illustration
Duffy’s pop-art sensibilities and affinity with word play are most apparent in her illustrations of soda cans. Despite not being a pop drinker herself, Duffy created Kuuk as a counterbalance to her 2015 work Pipsi, a Sharpie drawing where the label on the can has been flipped from English letters to Inuktitut syllabics. This gesture adds a new meaning to the work, as pipsi is also the word for dried char in Inuktitut.
“I like playing with language and enjoy the challenge of taking Inuktitut, specifically syllabics, and changing their shape,” says the artist, whose inspiration comes from the everyday objects around her, adding “my mom also loves Coca-Cola memorabilia, so I made this for her, too.”
Tarralik Duffy Charlie Adams (2019) Digital illustration
“I remember the concert like it was yesterday,” reflects Duffy, looking back to the time in her childhood when the legendary Charlie Adams came to perform in Salliq (Coral Harbour), NU. “He opened with a very personal story about a night of extreme excess and his struggle with addiction. Though I did not understand it at the time, what he shared about ‘feeling overcome with happiness at waking up to a brand new day and to not take life for granted, even at the most difficult times’ has stayed with me my whole life.”
Duffy pays homage to the late musician in a cobalt and ochre line drawing, with the title of his famous song “Quviasuppunga” in expressive syllabics bouncing among musical notes. She says that she hopes to immortalize other Inuit legends and heroes in a series of portraits.
Tarralik Duffy RUUSI (2021) Digital illustration
In RUUSI, the iconic “We Can Do it” Second World War poster has been “Inuktified” by Duffy, replacing Rosie the Riveter’s polka dot headscarf with a red floral granny scarf, with Rosie sporting traditional Inuit tattoos across her forehead and chin.
When asked why she decided to recreate this popular work, Duffy asks, “What if we grew up in a world where Inuit were in these iconic posters [and] Inuktitut were the language of the world? I think it’s fun to have the ability to create these images and put them out there and challenge the way we think about them.”
But it isn’t all fun and games, as Duffy describes the pressure that can come with wanting to get it right. “Sometimes translating something into Inuktitut is difficult, but I enjoy the process,” she says, speaking to the complexities and nuances that arise when trying to interpret slogans into another language.
Tarralik Duffy Supuuqtuq (2021) Digital illustration
“It’s a mood,” Duffy says of this snapshot of the typical Nunavut woman, heading home at the end of the day after grabbing some groceries from the Northern store. “When people think of Inuit traditional clothing [they don’t] think of leggings, but they’re everywhere.” Whether it’s Duffy’s own pattern under her label Ugly Fish Designs, or fellow Inuk designer Hinaani Designs, there are many styles to choose from that complement ankle booties, sunglasses and a handmade amauti.
All of Duffy’s drawings start out as pencil on paper, but are then uploaded digitally where she can edit the colours and use different brushes to make marks she otherwise couldn’t.
“I like the effect I put on her, because it reminded me of that beautiful cotton-candy sunset [up North] that casts its glow all over everything.”
Tarralik Duffy Black Gold (2021) Digital illustration
The humble China Lily bottle is elevated in Duffy’s illustration Black Gold (2021), just like how a splash (or three) of soy sauce helps to enhance the flavour of country food like iqaluk and maktaaq.
“I wanted it to be exactly how I remembered it growing up, [seeing it] on my anaanatsiaq’s table,” Duffy says, speaking to the decision to render the iconic product in its original packaging and English font. “I’m drawn to these marketable and consumable items that have a really specific contrast and colour to them, I find them really striking.” These elements are further accentuated when Duffy utilizes repetition in a pop-art style grid, reflecting the Northern store shelves the beloved sauce would line.
When asked what her favourite thing is to put China Lily on? “Oh my goodness, quaq all the way.”
Learn more about Tarralik Duffy
Learn more about KAMA