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Inuit Art

Inuit Art

The ancestors of Nunavik Inuit, the Thule, did not produce art for the simple sake of beauty. As nomadic hunters and gatherers, their energies were devoted to survival. Their way of life did not afford them the luxury of accumulating heavy or cumbersome objects which had no practical application. Carvings were always small in size. Animals and human figurines were commonly created, as were dolls and toys in the form of miniature replicas of actual tools.

The Thule were highly skilled craftspeople who were able to produce by hand all the tools and implements essential to them, such as needles (mirquti), needle cases, combs, spears (unaaq), arrow heads, knives (savik) and utensils. These instruments were made from the various materials available: walrus ivory, animal teeth, whalebone, grass (for baskets), animal skins, driftwood, flint, slate and soapstone. Thule designs were effective and graceful. Tools such as snow knives, bow-drills and needle cases were often adorned with decorative engravings. Some engravings depicted hunting or gathering scenes, while others were simple geometric designs.

By the middle of the 20th century, Inuit began to apply their craft skills to larger pieces of art. For example, expert carvings were cut out of soapstone, a material that had traditionally been used only for seal-oil lamps (qullik) and containers. A new form of art, stone-cut printmaking, was also introduced. Although not as prevalent as in Nunavut, printmaking in Nunavik proved to be yet another way for Inuit artists to recount the stories and worldview of their people. In Nunavik, carvers from different regions gained renown for their distinctive styles and skilled work.

Today carvings, handicrafts, and prints from Nunavik can be found in museums and private collections throughout the world. Contemporary Inuit artists give shape to traditional values through modern techniques. Nunavik art is a dynamic outlet for cultural expression and a fascinating window into the history and roots of a unique region.