The Canadian Art Database

Puvirnituq [Povungnituk], Nunavik [Arctic Quebec]


Today, almost 1200 people reside in the community of Puvirnituq. Located on the east coast of Hudson Bay about 4 kilometres from Povungnituk Bay, on the north shore of a river by the same name, Puvirnituq is surrounded by an expansive plateau. The area is a mixture of lakes and rivers and is in very close proximity to herds of caribou migrating in the Fall of each year. The name of the community translates as “place that smells of rotten meat”. There are several explanations for the name – one story refers to caribou migrating across the river being swept downstream and drowned, another talks of a deadly epidemic and the last one to a time of European whalers and intensive whaling in the area.

The Hudson’s Bay Company (HBC) established an outpost in 1921 and opened a general store in 1951. At the same time posts in Qikirtarjuaq [Cape Smith nearAkulivik] and Kangirsuruaq were closed so Inuit living in scattered camps in the area began to relocate to Puvirnituq in the years following. During the 1950s the conventional trading of furs was being supplemented by other ventures including the concept of art for goods and trade. In 1958, working closely with artist Charlie Sivuarapik, Father Andre Steinmann encouraged residents to form the Carvers Association of Povungnituk, also known as the Povungnituk Sculptors Society, which later became the Co-Operative Association of Povungnituk.

Sculpture from Puvirnituq contains strong narrative themes, related to the traditional hunting lifestyle, in addition to legends and stories passed in the oral tradition. Hunting scenes, camp life, arctic animals, and often rather fantastic figures populate the artists’ landscape – the legend of Lumaaq, Iqalunappaa – The Half Fish, Saakiluusi and Arngnalu Aupvilu [the woman and the caterpillar] appear in sculpture and graphics quite frequently.

Artists in Puvirnituq began experimenting with stonecut printmaking in 1961. The first prints were released with the annual print collection in Kinngait [Cape Dorset] in 1962. [The first print shop in the Canadian Arctic to produce an annual print collection and catalogue, the first Cape Dorset collection was released in 1959]. In the early 1970s the print shop in Puvirnituq helped to establish print programs in other Nunavik communities. This initiative lasted for a few years while the printmakers in Puvirnituq expanded their métier. Stencil prints and serigraphy were also introduced until the print program was discontinued in 1989 due to financial difficulties.

Although there is a continued interest in traditional life and legend today – contemporary life [which includes hunting to provide a supplementary food source], film, television and radio media, in addition to stone sculpture, are of pArcticular interest.

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