• Feature


Carrying Cultural Memory

Nov 18, 2019
by Lisa Alikamik

Ulukhaktok, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, formerly Holman Island, has long been known to the world through the creativity of its people. From prints to mittens, moccasins to sculpture and even screen-printed apparel and home décor, the work of artists from our small community has travelled far. 

The Holman Eskimo Co-operative was formed in 1961 by a group of local artists eager to market their art. In 1962 printmaking experiments led by Father Henri Tardy turned the drawings of Peter Aliknak (1928–1998), Harry Egotak (1925–2009), Billy Goose (1943–1989), Paul Ipiilun, Helen Kalvak, CM, RCA (1901–1984) and Jimmy Memorana (1919–2009) into incredible stencil prints that tell the story and history of our culture. Following a poor initial reception by the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council (CEAC), the first official collection of prints from Ulukhaktok was released in 1965. 

Shortly after the release of the collection, artists in Ulukhaktok also began printing their work on woven household goods. Placemats, coasters and burlap wall hangings came to bear our traditional stories and the designs of our artists. Greeting cards, t-shirts and more soon followed.

Occasionally designs used on these goods were the same as prints released in the annual collections, which ran uninterrupted until 2000. For instance, Victor Ekootak’s (1916–1965) Drum Dance (1977) was released as a stonecut in an edition of fifty and included on a series of placemats in various colours and tones. Printed almost exclusively in black ink, the bold graphics from Ulukhaktok worked beautifully on the rich blue, bold red, rusty orange and warm brown fabrics onto which they were printed. With the establishment of the Ulukhaktok Arts Centre in 2011, the work of these celebrated artists continues through the circulation of rich, evocative images on prints, cards, bookmarks and more by the next generation of makers. 

This distribution of arts and crafts from Ulukhaktok across the world fills our people with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. And, through these objects, our culture and traditions are discovered by new audiences and our community placed on the map. 

For many artists, both contemporary and historic, creating pieces with such incredible detail, including those designed for commercial distribution, is an important way to provide income for their families while also carrying cultural memory. These objects keep our ancestors and loved ones alive and for our current artists, gives them exposure and allows them to promote their identity. Whether on a wall or a greeting card, each print tells a powerful story held by the artist.Although we may have many other means of passing on our values to the generations that follow, today the history of printmaking in Ulukhaktok reminds us that these traditions can be found all around us, even at the dinner table.

This Community Spotlight first appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

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