Taking Control of Inuit Stories Through Printmaking
Inuit Art Foundation | December 13, 2021
In a culture where storytelling and oral history are significant pillars of society, printmaking offered a new way to preserve and share our culture. Inuit printmakers from Puvirnituq have been especially influential in Nunavik. It was these artists that started the co-operative movement in 1960 that resulted in the creation of La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec (FCNQ), an act that would create a sense of control and autonomy of our own future. Creating space even in the often pretentious and foreign worlds of international galleries for images of our everyday. Our hunts, legends, styles of clothing and our ways of play. Carved in stone and set to paper, Inuit artists have cemented a place for our culture and aesthetic in the global imagination.
Play (1966) is a print I adore, so I am grateful that I have the opportunity to share my thoughts on it. Leah Qumaaluk’s (1934–2010) other works, including more than 50 prints, are equally as impressive and I am privileged to have access to archived prints at the FCNQ office in Montreal, QC—even more so that I was able to see an original stone matrix carved by the artist for an uncatalogued mini-print; something that’s become increasingly rare as printmakers have moved away from using stone. Customarily the matrix would be destroyed after a run of prints is completed, though some have survived intact or with an X carved across the image.
The vivid imagery of Inuit storytelling fits well into the medium of printmaking, something that is made beautifully clear across Leah Qumaaluk’s many prints. Even more impressive is the sheer size of some of her prints, particularly considering that each was carved on a single slab of stone. Her legendary birds and great monsters evoke a sense of otherworldliness that is brought to life when viewed in person and her nuanced images of everyday life, make for a stunning and unique portfolio. Play in particular radiates warmth and love, as a child suspended in the air by a parent or sibling is just out of the reach of an excited puppy.
As the owner of three playful huskies, I am often drawn to art featuring dogs. Dogs have always held important roles in Inuit society, not only as modes of transportation or protection. Inuit children are given puppies to learn responsibility and to have a protector if they’re off playing on their own. When I see this print, I see a puppy at play with their companion, trying in vain to reach, to touch, to love their little person. The sweet sound of joyful breathless giggles echoes in my imagination as I am reminded of playtime with my own puppy. My little niece suspended above my head as we yell, “Loki is lava!” I imagine this to be a universal experience—unless, of course, you’re not a dog person—but who doesn’t love a little run around with a cute puppy?