Seals are a central part of Inuit life and culture, with many traditions and stories stemming from the fuzzy, fin-footed creatures. These goofy aquatic mammals capture our affection for not only their puppy-like faces and round, undulating bodies but for what they provide as an essential source of food, fuel and clothing. Today we’re celebrating seals—the cute pinnipeds ubiquitous with the Arctic, and the different ways they have been depicted in Inuit art with 7 seal-liously stellar works.
Megan Kyak-Monteith Dirt Road Seal (2020) Oil on panel 76.2 x 55.9 cm COURTESY MARION SCOTT GALLERY
Straight from a dreamscape, this painting by Megan Kyak-Monteith portrays the surreal memory of stumbling upon a seal on a dirt road in Nova Scotia with her brother. After moving down South from Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet), NU, I’m sure this was the last place these siblings expected to find a ringed seal! The soft brushstrokes and saturated colours add to the bizarre nature of the encounter, blurring the lines between memory and reality.
Tivi Etok The Dance of the Great Harp Seals (1975) Stonecut 38.1 x 48.3 cm COURTESY FÉDÉRATION DES COOPÉRATIVES DU NOUVEAU-QUÉBEC
If you’ve ever witnessed the silliness with which a seal scoots itself across the ice, you’d understand why Tivi Etok chose to depict these four harp seals dancing in unison. Fin in hand, these seals kick up their boots and raise their whiskers to the sky as they dance the night away.
Andrew Qappik Spring Seals (1993) Stencil 34.3 x 55.9 cm COURTESY FEHELEY FINE ARTS
The soft pastel gradients in the work of Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU, based Andrew Qappik perfectly capture the Arctic landscape and silvery coat on this group of swimming seals. Giving us a view both above and below the waterline, this print shows a glimpse of what seals get up to on icy spring days.
Billy Gauthier Basking Seal Revisited (n.d.) Anhydrite, serpentine, labradorite and seal claws 20.3 x 25.6 x 20.3 cm COURTESY THE ARTIST
This basking seal by Billy Gauthier speaks to the work it takes to master one’s craft. This sculpture was initially created in 2001, but as he honed his skills as a carver Gauthier decided to rework this piece years later. The added details and seal-claw inlays resulted in a remarkable representation of a seal on ice.
Kananginak Pootoogook Arctic Seals (2008) Stonecut and stencil 70.7 x 62 cm REPRODUCED WITH PERMISSION DORSET FINE ARTS COURTESY IAF © KANANGINAK POOTOOGOOK
This trio looks like trouble! Kananginak Pootoogook's ability to capture the spirit of wildlife in the North is put on display with this playful group of seals. This print highlights their clownish characteristics but also the visual diversity in appearance between the harp, spotted and ribbon seal.
Natar Ungalaaq Seal (1982) Grey stone 5.3 x 12.3 x 4.3 cm COURTESY IAF
Did you know Natar Ungalaaq, the star of Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner, is also a talented carver? In addition to the epic adventures showcased on film, Ungalaaq brings that same narrative quality to this engraved sculpture. Narwhals, a drum dancer and a sabre-toothed portrait mid-transformation cover the surface of this scintillating story-seal.
Mary Okheena Untitled (Hunter Overlooking Seal) (1955) Duffel, thread and embroidery floss 91.4 x 55.9 cm COURTESY THE ARTIST
Rejoice! This vivid wall hanging by Mary Okheena is the ultimate celebration of the seal. A rosy-pink background and seafoam-green hand drum juxtapose the brown harbour seal in the foreground. The gestures and facial expression of this hunter radiate respect and gratitude—integral elements of the important relationship between Inuit and seals.