Zorga Qaunaq is a multidisciplinary artist from Ottawa, ON, whose artistic practice includes tattooing, graphic art, jewellery and more.
Qaunaq grew up in Nunavut until the age of ten, when she moved to Ottawa with her family. She had an early interest in visual art, but it took her some time to find her niche. “Great artists have a vision,” she says, “and I felt kind of lost.”  Qaunaq developed a project-based approach to her artistic practice, which allows her to jump between mediums. “I get bored easily,” she says about the switch. This approach means that she has developed skills in a wide range of materials, from sealskin and different kinds of animal fur, to drawing and illustration, printmaking, video creation, podcasting, traditional hand-poke tattoo methods and more.
Qaunaq works full-time as a facilitator and Inuktitut-language instructor at Nunavut Sivuniksavut College in Ottawa, and got into podcasting through a course offered through Good Influence Films. Her tattooing practice began from her own desire to get traditional tattoos; when she couldn’t find an Inuit woman in Ottawa to tattoo her, she went to a non-Inuit tattooer who taught her techniques. Eventually, “I realized that I was the Inuk lady I was looking for,” she says.
There is an extremely high demand for Inuit tattooing in Ottawa due to the sizable Inuit population there, but Qaunaq was one of the few local Inuk tattooers and felt pressure to perform given the outsized demand. She emphasizes being in a good headspace when taking part in the tattooing process, because you don’t want to transfer any negative emotions to the markings. The conversations Qaunaq had while doing tattoos inspired her to create a series of podcast episodes interviewing diverse Inuit about their lives and experiences. She wants to make space for Inuit to say what they want to say with an Inuit audience in mind—a podcast about Inuit, for Inuit, by Inuit. “It’s something I would have loved to hear when I was younger,” she says.
Qaunaq’s visual work is inspired by artists like Natashia Allakariallak, Mathew Nuqingaq and Maata Kyak, particularly the elements of their work that celebrate their lives and heritage and explore new things. Living in the south made her feel disconnected from her own culture, so she seeks to use her art to reconnect. “Making art from where I am and how I feel is more important than making something that other people will like,” she says.
Career milestones so far include the moment when her burgeoning Youtube channel began to make revenue, a panel discussion she led with Arsaniq Deer and Aedan Corey on the impact of Inuit tattoos through Saw Gallery’s Nordic Lab and Inuit Futures, and starting up her own jewellery business, Chinu Designs. Chinu (named for the cultural fusion of Chinese and Inuit) is the brainchild of Qaunaq and Chinese-Canadian jeweller Robyn Mo-Lian. Mo-Lian does beadwork while Qaunaq works in sealskin, fur and other materials, each taking on different roles in the management of the business. Their work was worn by Shina Novalinga in the March 2022 issue of Elle Canada. “I just like to be my own boss,” she says about the different hats she has worn thus far in her artistic career.
Despite the many elements of her practice, Qaunaq finds art therapeutic. “It’s like going to the gym,” she says—when you finish something, you feel great. In the future, she wants to move on to more tattooing and more art on paper, with the ultimate goal of having half her income come from her artistic practice and eventually transitioning to doing art full time. “I want to inspire others to know that they can do whatever they want to do,” she says about what the future holds.
This Profile was made possible through support from RBC Emerging Artists.