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The Power of Nostalgia in Inuit Art

Uqallaqatigiinngniq: Sharing Voices

Nov 12, 2021
by Kablusiak

While browsing all the works in the TD Corporate Art Collection, I was immediately captivated by this carving, Dog Sled (1949). Even though I only saw a small picture of it through a screen, I could imagine how striking it would be in person: the milky colour of the ivory and string, how the cotton is braided so tight it looks like sinew. With just two materials, Akpalialuk was able to capture a moment of familiarity and spark all these connections in my brain.

I was drawn to write about this Inuk tableau vivant not only for its quiet beauty, but also because it looks exactly like the Playmobil Set: 3466 that was released in 1985, which included a kayak and a dogsled. Seeing this sculpture hit me with nostalgia and unlocked memories that I thought I had forgotten. My brother and I had various components of the Playmobil Eskimo series: the kayak, the dolls with their weird detachable hoods, the seals, the jerry can, the sled, reins and dogs. I don't remember playing with the iglu or the penguins (Google tells me this set included penguins for some reason). I love that my parents bought that for us; it was probably the only toy that existed back then that offered a crumb of representation. I remember being obsessed with the set—tying down that little bundle of felt to the qamutik, snapping the mitts onto the doll’s wrists. I’m sure other kids (white kids) felt differently towards that set, playing with little Eskimo dolls as if they were playing with plastic dinosaurs; thinking about both as something that lived a long time ago but doesn’t exist anymore, something they only knew about because of that one time they learned about us in school.

I read in TD’s collection catalogue that Akpalialuk is from Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU. My family is from Ikaahuk (Sachs Harbour)/Tuktuyaaqtuuq (Tuktoyaktuk), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT. Those places are essentially at opposite ends of the colonial boundaries of northern Canada, similar technologies (like dog teams) exist across the circumpolar North, and that blows my mind. This may seem obvious to you, like “Duh, of course they had the same technologies across the circumpolar north, dummy. Water is wet.” Most people were likely taught that all Inuit are the same. As an Inuvialuk with an understanding of the differences in culture from region to region, seeing how we share certain practices across Inuit Nunangat/Inuit Nunaat is both mind-boggling and so beautiful. Each region is specific (language, attire, drum dancing), but I love how some things are the same. I feel that this artwork bridges gaps across regions with its familiarity of subject matter and materials. It also bridges gaps in time—jumping from its creation in 1949, to sparking a recollection of plastic toys from 1985, to now me gushing about its lush materiality for a magazine dedicated to celebrating Inuit art.

All of that to say that Inuit art is so good that it transcends space and time.


This series was made possible with the generous support of the TD Ready Commitment.

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