I have been thinking a lot about Inuit photographers and photography lately in connection to my various projects. Thought I would share these two meta-photographic works, examining the methods and motives of one Inuit medium (because as we all know any medium used by an Inuk is an Inuit medium) through the lenses of two more recognizable Inuit media, namely the graphic arts and ivory carving.
Image 1: Kananginak Pootoogook’s famous image The First Tourist, 1992
Image 2: Bob Kussy of Ashoona Studios, Inuit Photographer (Peter Pitseolak)
‘Public paintings’ have, for a while but even more recently, been relatively common in Greenland. Against the repetitive prefab houses and stark landscape they tend to stand out far more than in Western urban spaces. They really give energy into the community. They even have unveiling parties. Most of the time the kommune or whoever is organizing it engages local and national artists, and so it is interesting to see, a company in Nunavut exploring this same model on a larger scale.
This is part of a mural in Kuujjuaq, in Nunavik, designed and organized by Nuschool. While the mindset behind public art is often that it has to be fairly conservative and conformed to concrete ideas of what ‘art’ looks like, to if nothing else be accepted into the norm of urban space, Nuschool’s designs mix visual references of traditional images (as in Aasiaat) with street art, tattoos and trends in contemporary painting. So they do not only bring beauty and liveliness to urban spaces, but also a stronger creativity. And they give the people in these communities, especially the young, an added opportunity to see traditional forms and content reimagined, revitalized and as an active part of their lives. They likewise engage local artists, but on a much larger scale, and across Nunavut and Nunavik, wherever their commissions take them. They also produce advertising, web design, illustration and more. This type of dynamic creative company, that stays involved in its communities but is not stylistically isolated and conventional, is what’s needed more in the arctic.
Sam Tutanuak, Back in ‘58. A song and video that tell the story of relocation of Inuit from Nunavik in northern Quebec to remote locations thousands of kilometers away in the high arctic. As with every such abuse against indigenous people throughout the world, when enough time had passed and enough people got loud enough the Canadian government apologized and handed out monies, and made the victims into “heroes” for a few minutes. And also as with every such abuse, the government managed to apologize without admitting fault, the immense risk to the lives of those displaced (the ecosystem and animals being vastly different from their homes), the loss of local knowledge and the government’s actual intentions in the relocation - although it seems obvious that they were using Inuit to mark their “sovereignty” in the high arctic, which only makes it darker. What would have happened had they abducted white, rural Canadians and dropped them in a land with no shelter or means of getting food?
It is taking decades for Canada to come to terms with its history in the Arctic, and with its relationship to all its indigenous people. “Kikkik” is the story of government mistakes and neglect, of starvation, murder, freezing death, but, in the end, a kind of justice that helps restore our faith in human decency. In 1958, the Inuit woman Kikkik was charged with murder and criminal negligence leading to the death of her child. Her trial and our visit back to the place and to Kikkik’s children confront us with a legacy that’s still a challenge for Canada.
Isuma production’s offices in Igloolik, Nunavut. “Isuma” means “Think” - in the imperative. So the pretext for all of their films, as well as the message they proclaim to the town and throughtou Inuit Nunaata, is to think.
They have been a key component in redefining and represerving Inuit culture - through their documentaries, their short films/video art that ask viewers to consider the intricacies and lyricism of traditional life as art in itself, and their fictional films that illustrate legends as well as help contextualize ‘traditional life’ in the medium we are used to seeing it on film, through human relationships. But they have also been important in establishing Nunavut’s self-sufficient postmodern relations to the rest of Canada and the world. Before Isuma came about, television was not common in Nunavut, and there were no programmes in Inuit languages. In addition to their independent work, it’s founders lobbied for changes in broadcasting and helped establish Inuit language programmes in the late ’80s. They both set example for how Inuit identity can be expressed on film and showed that Nunavummiut can engage with the rest of the world, in their own language, and that this is just as important for preserving and evolving culture as documenting the lives of those on the land.
If you click on the photo it will take you to their website where you can stream their major works, or download them. I have only seen Atanarjuat: The Fast Runner (which I happily own) and some short films but can not wait to see the rest. For downloading they charge pay-what-you-can. Do NOT take advantage of this - Isuma is in financial trouble, they have stoped production for the time and their assets are being held. DO pay what you can if you wish to download and realize that the option to download for free is mostly designed for schools and community organizations. They say the average donation is 10$, I think everyone on tumblr can afford that. And if you can’t then stream them, the quality is the same. I definitely recommend that anyone of circumpolar persuasions sees them. When the Western film industry - richer than most people will ever be, churning out generic throw-away ‘entertainment’ - is overriding communication freedoms to save the smallest amount of profit, it is a tremendous gift that a small film company finds producing high-quality, culturally rich work and making it available to all, to be important enough to risk its owners’ stability.