Annie Pootoogook was born in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, in 1969. Her artistic roots run deep, as her parents, Eegyvudluk Pootoogook (1931-2000) and Napachie Pootoogook (1938-2002), were both artists in addition her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona, CM, RCA (c. 1904-1983), also a well-known graphic artist. Artist Jimmy Manning recalls that Pootoogook “always had a great interest in drawing” and that the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative provided her with the tools to do so . Once Pootoogook embarked on her career as an artist, it became clear how influential Pitseolak and Napachie’s works were on her. Pootoogook continuously referenced her mother and grandmother in her work and carried on their tradition of documenting daily life in her community. Works such as Composition (Pitseolak Ashoona) (2003-04), Pitseolak Drawing with Two Girls in Her Bed (2006) and Composition (Drawing of My Grandmother’s Glasses) (2007) reveal Pitseolak as not only an influence, but a recurring force in Pootoogook’s practice. Pootoogook’s art career took off in her early thirties with her first solo exhibition, Moving Forward: Works on Paper by Annie Pootoogook at Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto, ON in 2003.
Pootoogook’s rise to prominence in the Canadian and international contemporary art scenes was swift. She went from being relatively unknown (with the exception of her community) in the early 2000s to having a solo exhibition at the Power Plant in Toronto, ON in 2006—the first dedicated to an Inuit artist in the institution’s history. Winning the Sobey Art Award in 2006 further launched Pootoogook and her work into the art-going public's consciousness. Her position as a contemporary artist was further cemented when her work was included in documenta 12 in Kassel, Germany. “Such a spectacular string of successes would be an impressive feat for any young or mid-career artist,” notes Robert Kardosh. “For Pootoogook, however, her personal accomplishments also reflect a dramatic breakthrough for Inuit artists generally, this being the first time that the Canadian and international establishments have embraced an Inuit [sic] artist as an important contemporary artist tout court .”
Pootoogook's early drawings provided clever, humorous and tender insights into her daily life. In Ritz Crackers (2004), she depicts an open box of crackers, with three crackers (one half-eaten) and some crumbs in the foreground, a mug with a partially visible floral pattern and a spoon cradling a teabag. This seemingly simple image might evoke memories of similar snack times in homes across Canada. However, the work can also be unpacked to consider greater socio-economic factors—in particular, the cost of shipping food to the North and how much more a name-brand box of crackers may cost. And, the lasting implications of forced settlements on traditional Inuit life. “Many of her drawings touch upon the devastation that alcoholism and suicide have wrought,” says curator Candice Hopkins, “both of which occur in epic proportions in the north, where communities are still healing from the open wounds of colonialism and the radical severing of lives once lived in rhythm with the land .” As her career began to take off, her artistic trajectory shifted to reveal more intimate and explicitly political scenes that invite the viewer into all aspects of northern life.
In a tribute to Annie Pootoogook after her death in 2016, Inuk art historian and professor Dr. Heather Igloliorte acknowledged the robust dialogue around her scenes of domestic violence and alcohol abuse. But, for Igloliorte, the real breakthrough in Pootoogook’s work was the detailed depiction of the quotidian “images [that] de-exoticized the Arctic” . Pootoogook’s work, like her mother and grandmother before, broke with the tradition of drawing and printmaking in Kinngait that was grounded in the natural and fantastical world to confidently depict the humorous, heartfelt, personal and disturbing . In addition to these more iconic works, Pootoogook also produced numerous psychological and spiritual self-portraits that, like her domestic scenes, provided a glimpse into another interior that was equally heartfelt and personal . As Manning describes, “She drew about life around her and these subjects were simply part of that .”
2007: Pootoogook was selected as a feature artist for the Montreal Biennale.
2006: The documentary film Annie Pootoogook, made by Marcia Connolly, premieres at the Reel Artists Film Festival in Toronto, ON.
2006: Pootoogook is named the Glenfiddich Artist in Residence.