The Canadian Art Database

Qamanittuaq [Baker Lake], Nunavut

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Just under 1500 inuit people reside in Qamanittuaq, Nunavut’s only inland community, located at the mouth of the Thelon River in the Keewatin region. The name translates as “where the river widens” or “large widening of a river”. Artists in this community are known for their abstracted stone and caribou antler sculpture; bold and colourful drawings, prints and wool duffle, appliquéd and embroidered wall hangings. Several Inuit groups in this area, like those relocated to Aqviat [Arviat/Eskimo Point] and Kangiqlliniq [Rankin Inlet], were affected by starvation and disease in the 1950s. After this resettlement into Qamanittuaq around 1958-59 artists of significance began to emerge as early as the mid-1960s. Themes of family, the hunt, arctic animals - especially the musk ox, legend and myth have continuing importance among Qamanittuaq artists. The concept of transformation between shaman and spirit helper or spirit animal occurs with great frequency. The stone works possess a type of massiveness although delineated by a certain sensitivity of line and delicacy of detail and the antler carvings often shamanic in nature, and more rarely in evidence, possess a light, almost ethereal quality.

Drawings began to become of interest in the late 1950s and early 1960s in Qamanittuaq and several experimental print workshops were conducted shortly afterward. The first annual print collection and catalogue was released in 1970 with the encouragement of artists Jack and Sheila Butler. Stonecut and stencil prints were the primary media ­ supplemented by serigraphy, linocut and later woodcut techniques. The program progressed with great success until a devastating fire destroyed the print shop in 1977 and the entire print collection for the next year. The Sanavik Co-Operative, incorporated in 1971, rallied its resources and a new collection was begun within a month. The print shop closed however in 1990 due to financial difficulties. Efforts to revive printmaking in Qamanittuaq in 1996, sponsored by the Nunavut Arctic College, allowing for the release of new experimental collections

Scenes of the hunt, traditional camp life, moving camp and the Legend of Qiviuq; involving multiple-perspectives, abstracted forms and bold colour identify and inform both the prints and drawings from Qamanittuaq. The concept of shamanic transformation and the presence of otherworldly beings among Inuit are repeated in the graphic works. Qamanittuaq is also well known for its textile art. Using techniques learned from the tradition of making of caribou hide clothing, passed from one generation to the next, several women artists in Qamanittuaq embraced this medium even prior to drawing. Part of an early arts and crafts initiative Qamanittuaq wall hangings rival the prints and sculpture in terms of artistic expression and popularity. Similar subjects and themes are repeated but each artist takes pride in the embroidery and appliqué technique unique to their individual aesthetic. By the mid 1970s group and solo exhibitions, in both commercial and public galleries, and major public commissions established Qamanittuaq wall hangings as an important art form in Canada and Internationally.

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