Nunatsiaq News
NEWS: Nunavut April 14, 2015 - 10:34 am

Nunavut elder, artist captures past and present on 20-foot canvas

“She really wants people to understand how things used to be”

NUNATSIAQ NEWS
Ishulutaq is pictured here working on her oil stick drawing in October 2014. The piece, called Yesterday and Today, is now on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 31. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WAG)
Ishulutaq is pictured here working on her oil stick drawing in October 2014. The piece, called Yesterday and Today, is now on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery until May 31. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WAG)
Pangnirtung elder Elisapee Ishulutaq spent five days drawing the mural titled Yesterday and Today from the floor of the community's Uqqurmiut centre. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WAG)
Pangnirtung elder Elisapee Ishulutaq spent five days drawing the mural titled Yesterday and Today from the floor of the community's Uqqurmiut centre. (PHOTO COURTESY OF THE WAG)

In many ways, Elisapee Ishulutaq was already larger than life.

But now, that’s particularly true of the Pangnirtung artist and elder, whose 20-foot-long hand-drawn mural is now on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The WAG commissioned the oil stick drawing from Ishulutaq in 2014 to capture her perspectives on everyday life in the Baffin community.

“Elisapee Ishulutaq is known for recording the intimate details of everyday life as she has lived it,” said Darlene Coward Wight, the WAG’s Inuit art curator, in an April 10 news release.

“Her use of multiple perspectives, employing frontal, profile, and bird’s eye view in the same image, is also characteristic, and these unexpected shifts add interest and liveliness to her detailed scenes.”

But having the 90-year-old artist travel south to Winnipeg to work on the piece posed a challenge, so Coward Wight brought the supplies to Ishulutaq in Pangnirtung last October.

Ishulutaq uses a wheelchair, but with the help of her grandchildren, she set up comfortably on the floor of the Uqqurmiut centre, where she worked on the oil drawing for five days.

“It was still a fairly difficult task being on the floor for five days, sliding the length of the painting,” Coward Wight said in a video WAG produced on the mural’s creation.

“But to actually be there when she fearlessly started putting marks on the paper, I was just watching this with complete awe.”

Ishulutaq’s drawing, titled “Yesterday and Today,” depicts, to the left, summer scenes of her earlier life on the land and on the right side, a more modern winter scene.

The summer scene includes a qammaq, a semi-permanent dwelling used year round with a frame of bones covered with scraped and fur-covered seal skins and insulated with peat moss in the winter.

Ishulutaq grew up on the land and only re-located into what is now Pangnirtung in 1970. She draws the community as it was at the time in a winter scene showing people walking between the village’s few buildings: the Hudson’s Bay Co. offices, the RCMP station and a church.

The clear blue water in the drawing connects visually with the sky, framing the mountains of Cumberland Sound.

“Elisapee is very interested in showing future generations what her life was like, so that it’s not forgotten,” Coward Wight said. “She really wants people to understand how things used to be.”

Ishulutaq has long served as a leader and mentor to her community. In 2014, she was honoured for her work when she was named a Member of the Order of Canada “for her progressive artwork and for her contributions to the cultural and economic health of her community as role model and mentor.”

The mural “Yesterday and Today” is on display at the WAG until May 31.

You can watch a video of the mural being made here.

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