The Hunter Artist: A New Generation Is Redefining Inuit Art, Preserving Northern Traditions as It Adapts to Southern Way of Life
A FEW MONTHS after my first visit to Cape Dorset, I had a dream. I was at a crowded gathering in the small Nunavut community on a brilliantly sunny day. But rather than one of the little one-storey prefab buildings scattered across the windswept rock, I was in an apartment building — a very high, somewhat rundown modernist tower with a south-facing view. The apartment was small and jammed with Inuit people, all having a good time. I was the only southern white person there, a recipient of their generosity, as I had so recently been in real life.
The view was extraordinary. Below us lay the entire topography of Hudson Bay, its familiar, lopsided udder shape inverted from its conventional southern orientation. The view was as if seen from the stratosphere, with the water stretching out like hammered silver, shining in the late-afternoon spring light. The bottom of the bay was cloaked in a blanket of clouds, and they, too, were lit up to a satin-sheened brilliance. I was bewitched by the beauty, startled by it, but around me everyone carried on carousing, oblivious. A group of young men were gathering on the balcony — too many, it seemed to me, to be supported by it. I was worried it would break, but as an outsider I was wary of offering advice.
When I awoke, my mood was ambivalent. I was moved by the radiance of what I had seen, but also anxious about the possible calamity. This, I quickly realized, had been the frame through which I had experienced Cape Dorset, a small town that has been the site of a unique intercultural experiment between the Inuit and the white worlds for more than half a century. I had been enchanted by the beauty and the culture of the place, but disturbed about what Inuit had endured, and how much they still stand to lose by adopting the structures and values of the white world. I have now made two visits there to learn about printmaking at the renowned Kinngait Studios, the jewel in the crown of northern artistic production, which celebrated its fiftieth anniversary three years ago. In particular, I wanted to meet Tim Pitsiulak, forty-five, a quiet, steady fixture in the community, one of its best hunters, and now one of its most promising artists. A nephew of the celebrated printmaker Kenojuak Ashevak, he leads a new generation of artists redefining Inuit art.