Mary Okheena is a prominent multidisciplinary artist based in Ulukhaktok (Holman), NT, who primarily works in graphic art but also creates wall hangings and embroidered works. Across each medium, Okheena’s work is characterized by playful visual narratives, which include both human and animal figures. She first learned different printmaking techniques from her father, sculptor and printmaker Jimmy Memorana (1919-2009) as well as learning stencil and woodcut printmaking techniques from artist Harry Egotak (1925-2009). Over the decades, Okheena has refined her skills as a printmaker, illustrator and designer to create a variety of deftly produced and vibrant works.
Growing up, Okheena was always creating sketches on scrap pieces of paper while also watching her dad and other family members create prints. Inspired by their work as well as her own drive to pursue art making, Okheena eventually became involved with printmaking, drawing and embroidery at the Holman Print Shop . In 1977 she sold her first drawing as a professional artist . In the early days of her printmaking she mostly printed the images other artist’s produced, many of which were included in the annual Holman Print Collections from 1979-1981. In1986 she began printing her own drawings at the print shop .
Okheena prefers to use the stencil technique in her work, which is a freehand technique that allows for more control over the final image. Her skill with a variety of print technologies, including stencils and lithography, allows her to make sharp works with vibrant colours. She regularly draws vivid scenes that include human figures in motion and ready to move beyond the borders of the drawing or textile . For example in Cleaning Our Fur (n.d.), a girl slides down a snowy hill on a piece of fur with a polar bear in the background following suit. Both the girl and the polar bear are ready to continue sliding right off the page.
To date, Okheena has produced over seventy drawings that have been made into prints, thirty-six of which she printed herself . Aside from printmaking, Okheena practices embroidery and is well-known for her detailed wall hangings. Okheena’s pieces have been exhibited across Canada and the US. Her work can be found in public collections such as the Canadian Museum of History in Gatineau, QC, the Prince of Wales Heritage Centre in Yellowknife, NT, the Winnipeg Art Gallery in Winnipeg, MB, and more. In addition, Okheena has also illustrated stories including for the 1997 book The Dancing Fox: Arctic Folktales by John Bierhorst.