Nunatsiaq News
FEATURES: Nunavut April 09, 2012 - 1:49 pm

To survive, Pangnirtung artists use new ideas

“After 50 years the whole Inuit art scene is shifting, changing”

JANE GEORGE
”Approaching for the kill,” a print by Pangnirtung high school student Tyler Kilabuk, is included in the 2012 Pangnirtung print collection. (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
”Approaching for the kill,” a print by Pangnirtung high school student Tyler Kilabuk, is included in the 2012 Pangnirtung print collection. (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
At the opening of the 2011 Pangnirtung Kyra Fisher (right) looks at Elisapee Ishulutaq’s print “International Formation: Two Canadians, one American & one German Fly the Arctic.” (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
At the opening of the 2011 Pangnirtung Kyra Fisher (right) looks at Elisapee Ishulutaq’s print “International Formation: Two Canadians, one American & one German Fly the Arctic.” (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
The Uqqurmiut print shop in Pangnirtung, built in 1994 and recently refurbished, remains a draw for visitors to the community. (PHOTO BY SARAH MCMAHON)
The Uqqurmiut print shop in Pangnirtung, built in 1994 and recently refurbished, remains a draw for visitors to the community. (PHOTO BY SARAH MCMAHON)

"Rewarded for The Successful Hunt” by Piona Keyuakjuk shows a shaman-hunter rewarded for the successful hunt. (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)

In an effort to make their work more appealing and to stave off mounting financial losses, artists with the Uqqurmiut print shop in Pangnirtung are trying new styles this year.

The 2011 Pangnirtung print collection, which features work from new artists as well as a diversity of styles, is designed to appeal to collectors and galleries who “are tired of the same old stuff,” print shop advisor Kyra Fisher said.

It’s a necessary change, said Fisher, who until late last year was the manager of the Uqqurmiut Arts and Crafts Centre in Pangnirtung.

“The young artists are copying what was done in the past and aren’t growing artistically,” she said.

To encourage art and artists at Uqqurmiut’s print shop, Fisher, who now works for the Government of Nunavut in Pangnirtung as its manager of cultural industries, found money to bring in artists from outside Nunavut for workshops on new artistic techniques.

Fisher also wanted to identify new talent and stimulate artists to experiment with new ideas and techniques.

“They don’t have art shows, galleries. There is nothing happening artistically,” Fisher said.

That’s why in 2011, master printmaker Peter Braune of New Leaf Editions in Vancouver, visited Pangnirtung to conduct a workshop.

Many works in the 2011 Pangnirtung print collection reflect the results of that collaboration.

Printmaking, as it’s practiced in the Eastern Arctic, is always based on a collaborative effort, with an artist’s work usually printed by another artists who serves as the printmaker.

There’s “Happy Warriors,” by Elisapee Ishulutaq, which shows a group of tiny soldiers with helmets, swords and even a spear. These cheerful-looking images came from her design for a combat helmet that was donated to a “Patriot Love” fundraiser for injured Canadian troops.

But the narrow, horizontal prints made by New Leaf Editions display techniques not found at Uqqurmiut, such as an etching technique called “spit-bite” and colour-printing that uses cotton daubs called dollies to apply colour.

And there’s Ishulutaq’s “International Formation: Two Canadians, one American & one German Fly the Arctic,” a striking image that shows four planes against the sky.

The print’s background were printed at New Leaf, but the aircraft was done at Uqqurmiut. For the background, New Leaf’s Braune created a handmade plate using textures to retain the colour and character of the sky, while Jolly Atagoyuk, a longtime printmaker at Uqqurmiut, stencil-printed the airplanes.

The print collection also shows a diversity of styles, which isn’t surprising, because the featured artists include new contributions from a student and a fish plant worker.

Tyler Kilabuk, a high school student at Attagoyuk school, produced “Approaching the Kill.”

Because Kilabuk was so keen to attend the workshop with New Leaf, his school principal gave him credit for attending the workshop in lieu of school.

And the workshop also spurred Piona Keyuakjuk, an experienced carver, who works at the Pangnirtung fish plant, to create “Instructing Shaman Helper.”

The black-and-white print shows a woman greeting the shaman hunter as otherworldly creatures look on.

The Pangnirtung print collection also includes prints of old-style drawings by elder Ooleepa Papatsie.

But the future lies in the skills of a new printmaker who did the etchings at last year’s workshop.

There, Robbie Pitsiulak learned to draw Papatsie’s images on the plates without compromising the integrity of the artist’s work, Fisher said.

The contributions from younger artists and printmakers show that printmaking needs new artists and ways for them to grow and survive.

“People have to recognize that after 50 years the whole Inuit art scene is shifting, changing,” Fisher said. “People have been doing art work for a long time and the older artists who are extremely creative, who had a great store of images, are dying off.”

For years, the print shop was one of Pangnirtung’s largest employers.

In the late 1980s, people in Pangnirtung fought to keep their print and weave shops from closing by forming the Uqqurmiut Inuit Artists Association and buying assets from the old Pangnirtung Eskimo Co-operative.

Then in 1994, the print shop was ravaged by fire and a lithography press was lost. The printmakers then moved the shop to temporary facilities and managed to put out a collection that year.

The Uqqurmiut association, headed by the late Rose Okpik, finally raised money and constructed the airy facility that exists today.

The Uqqurmiut arts and crafts centre, now owned by the Nunavut Development Corp., is a money-loser, not a money-maker.

Today only four printmakers regularly work at the studio — Atagoyuk, Andrew Qappik, Josea Maniapik and Eena Angmarlik.

Well-known Atagoyuk and Qappik, whose work continues to gain national and international attention by collectors, both sell prints outside the collection.

Asked if she feel confident about the future of the print shop, Fisher hesitates before answering.

“No, I don’t feel confident and you can’t feel confident about the future of the Cape Dorset print shop, either.”

That’s because film and the performing arts are coming into a higher profile and replacing the visual arts, she said. At the same time, many artists now prefer to sell their work personally.

“But when you look at all the famous artists, you see cannot achieve fame and high status when you’re outside galleries,” Fisher said.

The Pangnirtung print collection is also going the direct route, selling at the centre to tourists and cruise ship visitors and through its website.

All but one of the prints will be sold in an edition of 35, with prices ranging from $175 for Kilabuk’s “Approaching the kill,” to $1,200 for Ishulutaq’s airplanes.

The print collection was also on display at the Nunatta Sunakuttangat museum in Iqaluit.

There, curator Brian Lunger says the introduction of new techniques and styles, and the involvement of new artists and printmakers makes the collection a “very positive step forward.”
Of the 16 prints, six remain. And they can still be viewed at the museum shop, Lunger said.

“Happy Warriors,” by Elisapee Ishulutaq shows a group of tiny soldiers with their helmets swords and even a spear. (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
“Happy Warriors,” by Elisapee Ishulutaq shows a group of tiny soldiers with their helmets swords and even a spear. (IMAGE FROM THE 2011 PANG PRINT COLLECTION)
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