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i u a pi pu pa ti tu ta ki ku ka gi gu ga mi mu ma ni nu na si su sa li lu la ji ju ja vi vu va ri ru ra qi qu qa ngi ngu nga lhi lhu lha

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How Storytelling Endures Through Inuit Art

Inuit Art Foundation | November 10, 2021

Categories: news

How Storytelling Endures Through Inuit Art

Uqallaqatigiinngniq: Sharing Voices

Storytelling has always been an important part of my life, especially as a kid. Stories about Inuit mythology like the Qallupilluk, Blind Boy and the Loon, and the Owl and the Raven are burned into my memory. Davidialuk Alasua Amittu (1910–1976) was a well-respected storyteller from Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC, greatly inspired by the narratives he heard as a child. While conveying these stories and re-telling them in his work, he was writing them down and recording them, solidifying stories from Inuit oral history with a flavour of his own. Depicting stories passed on from generation to generation, autobiographical accounts of his experiences and scenes of tragic violence remembered from his lifetime, so much of his personal history was documented in art.

Inuk Delousing Male Spirit (c. 1952) is a flash point in a story untold. It is a tender moment welcoming humour like many Inuit stories, and one where I find myself formulating the rest of the story in my head. Amittu’s storytelling ability is reflective of a long tradition of Inuit oral history, rooted in the telling and sharing of stories. It is a way in which knowledge is acquired; storytelling teaches us our past, entertains us and keeps many histories alive today, forming the cultural, mythological and historical structure of every day. Amittu was able to capture the drama of Oral Tradition through the expressiveness of body language and facial expression. 

This piece reminds me of the many carvings he made of the katyutayuuq and tunnituaqruk— spirits in Inuit mythology. The katyutayuuq, a female, and tunnituaqruk, a male, are ogre creatures composed of large heads with stumpy legs. Inuk Delousing Male Spirit depicts a shaman, one who can communicate with the spirit world, picking away at the head lice on an armless tunnituaqruk.

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