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What Stories Can a Stone Sculpture Tell Us?

Sep 13, 2021
by Brian Kowikchuk

In the quietest of winter nights in the High Arctic, northern lights dance wickless across the night sky. This green and black canvas moves at night. No brushes were used to move these colours, just the hands of time. Green and black are the same colours of stone that Kumakuluk Saggiak used when shaping his masterpieces. He nested in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU.

Saggiak sculpted an owl and an owlet to show our sense of wisdom and our sense of playfulness with our children. He used black stone to help us realize the night sky is a canvas and to help us understand the hereditary strength to pass story, stone and spirit to create in this ever-evolving world.

The year 1972 is when the owlet and mother were born, sharing both their love and a birthday. Saggiak’s talent provides a glimpse of his world, with this sculpture of an owl and her owlet signifying the bond between a mother and her young one. I believe the story between this owl and owlet is affectionate. Saggiak’s steady hand was able to catch the moment of giving love—a sense of security and joy.

Our people often speak about how lucky it is to see an owl and how special it feels to encounter one. Like a spring bird, we would chirp happily about the experience. When you encounter an owl, there is a spiritual connection. Maybe it is a message from the other side; maybe it is an anatkuk (shaman) or shapeshifters guiding you; maybe it is your spirit animal. Stories are always rich with the ookpik (snowy owl) and other birds of prey, like ravens, because they are believed to carry portals to other worlds in their energies.

When our people create, we use so many different types of physical and spiritual energy. The transfer, the trade, the import, the export. There is sickness in objects and health in objects; there is happiness and sadness. Stone sculptures carry a lot of stories in their flesh. The skin takes so much physical energy to sand down, and creating the right type of shine means harnessing the right amount of pressure.

The relationship between art and spirituality is very strong. Some would even say passionate. Our hands were always used to survive. When the qulliq (lamp) was quiet, or the sun was rejoicing the return of the sky creatures, we used them to play string games. When the time came to use our hands to express ourselves, we tried to be as expressive as we could. The techniques and language of art can display which area of the North you might be from, and who may be your teacher.

Our hands tell the story of our survival—an old energy passed down for our stories to be heard, to be felt, to be seen. Some of these lessons are passed through hunting, some passed while bringing life during labour and delivery, and some are passed through our art. To me, Saggiak’s carving is about the art of passing knowledge and love through our Inuit ways. This sculpture tells you and me that when we see a carving, it has hundreds of stories. Mine. My mother’s. Her parents’. The owl and owlet in my past.


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


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