Nunavik graphic artist turns talents toward inspiring students
"I want to open their minds, see what there is and develop things"
Living in a remote and tiny Arctic community, like Ivujivik on Nunavik’s Hudson Strait, might seem limiting to some people.
But not to graphic designer Thomassie Mangiok, who is also the centre director for Ivujivik’s Nuvviti school, which serves the roughly 120 children living in this community of about 400.
“I want to try to give more inspiration to students. I want to open their minds, see what there is and develop things,” Mangiok said in a recent interview from Ivujivik.
At 35, Mangiok, a visual arts graduate of Montreal’s Cégep Marie-Victorin, has already racked up almost as many creative projects, from software applications to animated video series, as years.
Throughout, his overall focus remains the same: promoting Inuktitut.
”I see a need and I’ll try to fill it,” Mangiok said. “Our language is fragile.”
Inuktitut is spoken by nearly everyone in Nunavik, but education after Grade 4 takes place in either English or French.
To carve out a larger place for Inuktitut, Mangiok has devoted his spare time to producing online tools that teach the language and try to encourage its use among increasingly computer-literate youth in Nunavik.
Mangiok has just about finished an 11-part animated series called Nirukittumiut—which means, in Inuktitut, people who live in small places. The series consists of 20-minute animated episodes, which will resemble the trailer below.
The aim of the episodes, started as part of Nunavik’s Esuma stay-in-school project, is to provoke questioning among students.
Producing the Nirukittumiut videos has been time-consuming, said Mangiok, who also has a company called Pirnoma Technologies.
“It is a huge amount of work. I had no idea what I was getting into,” he said about the videos.
One of the Nirukittumiut episodes features two students who are involved in an election at their school. In this episode, Mangiok said he wanted to show students the impact of making decisions.
To produce each episode, Mangiok wrote the dialogue in English, then he translated it into Inuktitut and had that checked for accuracy. It also took him a couple of days to work on the animation of each character.
Finally, Mangiok had to find people willing to read the Inuktitut dialogue.
Due to Nunavik’s slow internet connections, which can mean it takes hours to send large files, the dialogue for Nirukittumiut was recorded by Inuktitut students in Montreal.
Trips south and the use of online drop boxes during off hours for sending and receiving also helped overcome some of the technical challenges.
But Mangiok’s delivery on the animation project is, he admits, about two years behind schedule.
As for the future viewers of Nirkittumiut, well, they’re patient.
“They give me positive comments and they’re encouraging, but it’s hard for them to say anything when I haven’t finished it,” Mangiok said.
Another one of his big projects is to open up virtual reality programs for his students.
The plan is now to build computers that will let them experiment with virtual reality technology, using special goggles to look around and move through an artificial world.
The virtual reality equipment now at the school is based on a gaming computer, Mangiok said, with multiple programs for students.
“We sometime go see dinosaurs and sometimes planets, they sometimes watch music videos and other times visit ocean wildlife,” he said. “There is a program that has us take human bones piece-by-piece, and there is information linked to these pieces.”
Mangiok also wants to integrate virtual reality into the school classrooms in Nunavik, starting with computers located in Ivujivik, Akulivik and Kuujjuaq.
As well, Mangiok has started using a 3-D printer in Nuvviti school where students will soon be able to print art or more familiar objects, like a mini-qamutik, designed on the computer.
“We can print in plastic, and we prefer biodegradable, but it can also print metal and a wood solution,” he said.
Virtual reality and 3-D technology may also provide a way of getting over limited resources, Mangiok said: “When we want to order educational material it takes time. I want to have students to be able to make what they need.”
That’s been a long-term goal of Mangiok, who in 2014, launched an app called Inuit unikkausiliurusingit, loosely translated as “how Inuit create their stories.”
He also produced an app for phone and tablet devices in Inuktitut, called “Sunaunaa?” which shows how to properly pronounce words in Inuktitut.
And he wrote and illustrated a series of six comic books that dealt with social issues such as bullying, parenting, drug use, reckless behaviour or selfishness, which were drawn in a Japanese style known as manga.