Pop-up art fair at Ottawa YMCA offers Inuit crafts for Christmas
“We did very well today… More than I was expecting”
OTTAWA—The “lucky” kamiks that Okeejuasee Sageatook makes begin with a beaded bracelet, which she later attaches to the miniature boots, hand crafted from seal skin. The finished product becomes a small and fluffy lucky charm on a keychain.
She and her partner, Claude Comte, have been creating artwork and accessories using sealskin, leather and beads for more than 15 years.
And, from April to October, you can find them selling sealskin cushions and stuffed sealskin okpiks in Ottawa’s Byward Market, across from the Beavertails stand, where they are full time vendors.
But on Dec. 1, the couple participated in an Inuit Arts and Crafts Winter Market organized by the Ottawa-based Inuit community organization, Tungasuvvingat Inuit, and held at the Taggart Family YMCA in Ottawa.
The event is part of a larger TI program aimed at reducing Inuit poverty in Ottawa and across Canada.
“My doctor told me that I can’t work anymore,” said Sageatook. “So we’ve been doing this since 2000.”
Sageatook said it makes her happy knowing that people enjoy the artwork she makes, even though sometimes she is hard on herself and is “fussy” about creating her pieces.
About five years ago she and Comte created a larger version of their lucky kamiks for the popular Inuktitut-language children’s television show, Takuginai.
Comte said his favourite things to sell are the seal skin cushions, which can take up to five hours to make.
Events such the TI sale offer a welcome venue for Inuit artisans in the city, he said.
“We did very well today,” Comte said. “More than I was expecting.”
There was plenty of variety at the Dec. 1 market, where many shopped for Christmas gifts.
The crafts, ranging from Christine Kudluk’s elaborate beaded lace necklaces to painted model cars, hand-made sequin dresses and seal skin Christmas ornaments, grabbed the attention of those coming and going from the YMCA building.
Gabriel Koperqualuk of Nuraky Designs was another vendor at last week’s event.
His table featured different-sized prints of his colourful “glitch art”—photography that has been digitally altered to show patterns and designs in bright layers. Koperqualuk, a 30-year-old Montreal-based Dawson College photography student and graphic designer, takes pictures with his phone and edits them with layers of archived photographs of Inuit.
This year marked the first year that he’s sold his artwork.
“It’s basically who I am,” Koperqualuk said, when asked to describe his art. “I am an Inuk, but I grew up in the city, so it is a look into my own past, my ancestors, and who I am today.
Jennisha Wilson, the TI coordinator for the local poverty reduction project and organizer the Inuit Arts and crafts market, said she was pleased with how the day unfolded.
About 200 to 300 people came through the market at the YMCA, giving local artists much needed exposure, she said.
And, according to rough tallies from vendors, the event’s total sales for the event amounted to about $700, she added.
“It was our first pop-up market and, based on the feedback, we will try to do more,” Wilson said. “But it depends on the commitment of the artists.”
Through a poverty reduction urban Inuit integrated employment strategy, TI plans to offer more to Inuit artists and entrepreneurs, so they can develop long-term artistic and marketing skills, she said.
“In the past there have been a lot of First Nations, Inuit and Métis craft fairs and even within those spaces, Inuit are often marginalized,” Wilson said. “It feeds into the false idea that all First Nations, Inuit and Métis are the same.”
Beyond just profits, craft markets such as this serve other valuable functions, she said.
“It provides a space for buyers to learn about Inuit culture and history,” Wilson said. “And it provides a space for the artists to be Inuit.”