Breaking Artistic Molds with Saimaiyu Akesuk
Inuit Art Foundation | December 17, 2021
Exploring the Global Affairs Canada Visual Art Collection
“Whimsical,” “imaginative” and “timeless.” These are some of the words that can be used to describe Saimaiyu Akesuk’s bold lithograph, Transfiguration (2017), that hangs at the Official Residence of Canada in Reykjavik, Iceland. As I sit to write about this piece on September 30, 2021, Canada’s first National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, I am grateful that Global Affairs Canada’s Visual Art Collection features so many emerging First Nations, Metis and Inuit artists, including Akesuk, a young Inuk artist based in Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. Their work reflects Canada’s diversity and culture, and helps me in my role as Ambassador to share some of the rich stories rooted in our country’s history.
Although I am originally from Winnipeg, MB, I have always been drawn to the North. When most would dream of travelling to warmer climates for spring break, I would hop on several planes and make my way to Inuvik, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, where it was often –50ºC in March. Instead of going to the beach, I would drive the frozen 138 km ice road all the way to Tuktuyaaqtuuq (Tuktoyaktuk), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, a coastal community located on the edge of the Arctic Ocean. When I joined the Department of Global Affairs in 2001, then called the Department of Foreign Affairs, I knew I needed to find my way to the Circumpolar Affairs division. A year later, in 2002, I found myself working with our now Governor General Mary Simon. In those early years in the department, my passion for the North was firmly cemented.
Two decades on, that passion has only grown. Today I am fortunate to have Akesuk’s unique print adorn the wall in the Official Residence of Canada in Reykjavik. Akesuk’s colourful works are inspired by her late grandfather, Latcholassie Akesuk (1919–2000), who was a prominent carver in Nunavut. Many of his green stone sculptures depict animal life, including birds and bird-like creatures—an artistic vision that the younger Akesuk has brought to life again. Her use of coloured pencils is extraordinary, pressing firmly down to create unique textures (and then switching the direction of her pencil to create opposing shading). Her innovative technique produces images of birds, bears and insects in a simplistic form.
Akesuk is a Grade 3 teacher, and is undoubtedly an inspiration to the next generation. Her unique style, which takes a modern look on traditional forms, is a significant contribution to a contemporary Inuit art-making tradition. As such, Akesuk is part of a new generation of Inuit artists who are redefining the North. Given the strong focus on youth, the North and the environment in both Canada and Iceland, I am confident that Transfiguration will spark many exciting conversations and continue to inspire in the years to come.