The Canadian Eskimo Arts Council's Rejected Prints
Jun 17, 2022
From its inception, the CEAC was controversial. Collectors and media outlets in the South saw the CEAC’s oversight as “directing” artists and “corrupting” traditional Inuit culture. It is also significant to note that there was no Inuit representation on the council until 1973, twelve years after its inception, when Joanasie Salomonie (1938–1977) and Armand Tagoona (1926–1991) (who resigned before actually attending a meeting) were the first appointed Inuit members. From these appointments until the CEAC eventually disbanded in 1989, a number of other Inuit, mostly artists, held positions on the committee.
Though the council advised on many art-related matters over its near thirty-year existence, the most significant aspect of its legacy is tied to the reviewing of prints. Beginning in the early 1960s, print collections produced by communities across the Canadian Arctic were submitted to the CEAC for review. Accepted prints would be stamped in ink with the CEAC’s own chop, though later this was changed to a blind stamp. Those not approved were rejected outright. Rejected prints were not to be sold, marketed or circulated in any way.
CEAC Chop: Introduced as an ink chop in 1961 and later replaced by a blind-embossed stamp, the CEAC logo appeared on prints that had been approved by the council
In 1961, 36 of 40 prints produced by artists in Puvirnituq, Nunavik, QC, were rejected, though the following year 76 stonecuts were approved and released as part of the inaugural Puvirnituq Print Collection.1 Similarly, prints produced in Ulukhaktok (Holman), Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, in 1962 and 1963 were rejected, with the council claiming they bore too much Southern influence. However, later efforts from the community were enthusiastically approved and they began releasing annual print collections in 1965. Though prints from Kinngait often received very favourable judgements from the CEAC, in this early period, a handful of works were rejected for use of “strong colours” or “unfortunate cuteness” as well as the “handling [of] elements of form and space.” Though twenty experimental prints from Qamani’tuaq (Baker Laker), NU, presented in 1965 were enthusiastically reviewed, six prints presented in 1969 were rejected because of “poor printing and cutting.”
In March 1973, 131 prints from communities across Nunavik were presented to the CEAC while only 39 were recommended for sale. It was around this time that the Council stopped referring to prints as being “rejected” and began referring to them as “disapproved” or “withheld.” The disapproval of 70 per cent of the collection was devastating to the artists of Nunavik, as many prints were already editioned in full sets of 30, meaning that an incredible investment of resources, time and materials had been made and could not be earned back. Astonishingly, artists from Nunavik continued to produce prints and submit them to the CEAC for review. A second collection of Nunavik prints was presented in October 1973. This time 49 of 55 works were approved.
Members of the CEAC identified that one of their motives for rejecting or withholding prints was to protect the art market from over saturation, and to maintain high prices for quality works in hopes that printmaking could be a viable source of income for northern communities. In an attempt to protect the market though, many things were lost. Prints depicting legends, traditional ways of life and stories of personal experiences were censored. Reams of paper, gallons of ink, hours of labour and sparks of imagination were carefully piled and tucked away in drawers, cabinets and back rooms, hidden from public view, or destroyed entirely. Some artists’ entire output was rejected, discouraging them from ever making graphics again.
In 1989, shortly before it disbanded, the CEAC identified that “the need for the formal southern jurying of annual print collections is no longer necessary.” In the years and decades that followed, the once rejected or withheld prints began to make their way to market, assembled in special releases and other sales. Yet, today many still remain out of public view or have been lost altogether.
Looking carefully at the role of the CEAC and the artists and artworks affected by their decisions, there is an impulse to question choices made some 50 years ago. Tastes have changed, power has shifted, yet the artworks themselves remain. And, there is still much that can be learned from them. In the following Portfolio, we hear from contemporary artists and arts workers from across the North and South responding to a selection of these withheld works in hopes of recovering some of what was lost.
May Akulukjuk Lonsdale
1. Virginia J. Watt, The Role of the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council (Ottawa: Indian and Northern Affairs Canada, 1987), 1. All other quotations taken from CEAC meeting minutes and annual reports, recently digitized as part of Library and Archives Canada “We Are Here: Sharing Stories” initiative.
This Portfolio first appeared in the Fall 2019 Issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
Click the images above to get a new perspective on each print.
Feature Image Credits
May Akulukjuk Lonsdale
(b. 1947 Panniqtuuq)
Loons Curing the Blind
Printmaker Gyta Eeseemaillie
35 x 57 cm COURTESY CANADIAN ARCTIC PRODUCERS
Printmaker Magdalene Ukpatiku
Stonecut and stencil
63 x 94 cm COURTESY WINNIPEG ART GALLERY
Child with Owls
Printmaker Qabaroak Qatsiya
Stonecut and stencil
63 x 86 cm COURTESY DORSET FINE ARTS
Man and Son Going Caribou Hunting
Printmaker Caroline Qumaluk
32.5 x 55.5 cm COURTESY LA FÉDÉRATION DES COOPÉRATIVES DU NOUVEAU-QUÉBEC
Agnes Nanogak Goose
Printmaker Peter Palvik
50.5 x 65.7 cm COURTESY WINNIPEG ART GALLERY
Printmaker Timothy Ottochie
49 x 60.3 cm COURTESY DORSET FINE ARTS