The Canadian Art Database

Kinngait [Cape Dorset] Nunavut

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Almost 1200 people reside in the inuit community of Kinngait ­ translated from the Inuit language of Inuktitut as “mountains”. It is located on the south west coast of Baffin Island on the Foxe Peninsula in what is known as the Baffin region in Nunavut. The area surrounding the community is mountainous and one of the best-known features is Mallikjuaq [Mallik] - a hilly island minutes away from Kinngait by boat. As the first community to produce drawings and prints in the Canadian Arctic Kinngait has essentially set the standard for graphic art by Inuit artists. The early experimental prints were exhibited in 1958 and annual print collections and catalogues have been produced ever since. Certainly one of the most successful and longest running print shops in Canada the Kinngait artists involved over the years have produced over 100,000 drawings and more than 2500 editioned prints to date.

James and Alma Houston initiated early forays into art making, in the 1950s, in the area while many artists were still living in ancestral camps prior to settling in Kinngait. Sculpture and graphite works on paper were the focus at that time. Terry Ryan, first hired as an arts advisor in 1960 and manager of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-Operative from 1962-2001, has been the main component in both the Co-op’s and the artists’ success. [Ryan continues his work as Art Advisor in Kinngait today, dividing his time between Kinngait and Toronto]. Stonecut, stencil prints and etching and engraving dominated the early collections. Lithography was introduced, along with the use of acrylic paint on paper, in the early 1970s. Subsequently a type of creative renaissance began in both print and drawing media in Kinngait. Well established artists such as Pudlo Pudlat, Lucy Qinnuauyuak, and many others, entered a very prolific period in their artistic careers.

Sculpture continues to have great importance among three generations of artists from this community. Although small-scale works, following the tradition of highly detailed ivory sculpture from the Historic Period, are in evidence today Kinngait artists are noted for their large-scale stone sculpture. Inspired by representation, the concept of transformation between shaman and spirit helper or spirit animal; arctic animals adopting naturalistic or humorous human-like poses (ie. the Dancing Bear); Sedna [the sea goddess], are popular themes in addition to a myriad of other subjects and styles personal to each individual artist.

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