Irene Avaalaaqiaq, one of this country’s most prominent Inuit artists and a leading member of the prolific artistic community of Baker Lake in the new Canadian arctic territory of Nunavut, has enjoyed a distinguished thirty-year career. A distinctive creator of drawings, prints, and sculpture, she is best known for her remarkable wall hangings, which reveal a rich tradition of spirit and shamanistic imagery. Avaalaaqiaq brings a highly individualistic vision to her tapestries. Her world view, derived from an oral tradition, is expressed by manipulating bold shapes in bright contrasting colours against a solid background. In this first critical retrospective of Avaalaaqiaq’s work, Judith Nasby discusses her life and art as well as her commitment to preserving her heritage and making it accessible to an international audience.
Irene Avaalaaqiaq has received commissions for public buildings from Churchill, Manitoba, to Minneapolis, to Ottawa. She has had solo exhibitions at the Isaacs/Innuit Gallery in Toronto and her work was included in a touring exhibition organized by the Baltimore Museum of Art. In 1999 she had a solo exhibition at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at the University of Guelph and was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws from that institute.
McGill-Queen’s University Press
Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq was born on the north shore of Tebesjuak Lake near Baker Lake, Nunavut, Canada and although she believes she was born in 1941, she was once told by an acquaintance that her actual year of birth was 1936. At that time in the area, the dates of births on the land were not generally recorded. Her mother, Gualittuaq, died shortly after Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq was born, and with her father, Itiplui, unable to care for her, she was raised on the land by her grandparents in the traditional Inuit style.Speaking of her childhood, Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq said:
Whenever I see my wall hangings they remind me of my life. Also I always remember my grandmother and the stories and legends she told me. When I grew up there were no other people except my grandparents. I had never seen white people. When i do sewing and make a wall hanging I do what I remember. I can see it clear as a picture. When I am looking at it, it looks like it is actually happening in those days, as it was in my life.
On August 9, 1956, she married David Tiktaalaaq in Baker Lake. They moved to Baker Lake in 1958, where Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq gave birth to one of their children.
“Avaalaaqiaq’s style is bold and colorful, much like the artist herself. Her subject matter tends always to be shamanic in origin and is based on the Inuit myths, legends, and beliefs of traditional times as told to her by her grandmother. The shamanic belief system practiced in traditional times called for an easy interplay between man and animals. Avaalaaqiaq’s hybrid, flowing figures aptly portray this harmonious relationship—the forms are fluid and flat—half human, half animal; their heads are often in profile or duplicate halves, with staring eyes and gaping mouths. Her unique figures are readily recognizable.