Up and coming Nunavut artist holds first solo exhibit in Toronto
Nicotye Samayualie: “I’m supporting my boys with my art”
TORONTO — She got lost in the airport, felt like she was going to faint and then her baby cried through her opening night speech.
But Cape Dorset artist Nicotye Samayualie said her first solo exhibition in Toronto was a lot of fun — and she hopes it’s the first of many.
“It was really good for me,” said the 31-year-old mother of three, who attended the Feb. 28 opening night with her six-month-old son Norman in her amauti.
“But when I was talking about my drawings, my Norman started crying, so I didn’t get to finish my speech.”
Samayualie’s coloured pencil and ink drawings tell part of her story from the walls of Feheley Fine Arts’ downtown gallery, bringing to life the shorelines of her Baffin community on Dorset Island.
The drawings capture windswept Arctic cotton, craggy hillsides and pebbly beaches.
But scratch the surface a little, and you’ll learn a lot about Samayualie’s life, and her family and friends in Cape Dorset.
In many of her drawings, the flowers represent Samayualie’s family members. In “Broken Parents,” a wilted sunflower looks away, while another flower stands tall in the forefront, with two smaller flowers growing from the same stem.
The taller flower is Samayualie; the smaller off shoots are her two older sons.
“My boyfriend was not supporting my boys and I,” she says of the drawing.
“We broke up and so I drew this flower looking away and not facing our flower. There are two flowers and a small stem because I was expecting a baby when I drew it.”
Another drawing, featuring the Arctic cotton flower and two ribbons, pink and purple, is called “Women Should be Treated Right.”
The pink ribbon offers support to a relative who struggled with cancer, while the purple ribbon is in memory of a cousin who Samayualie says died from abuse.
“Abusing women shouldn’t be happening in the world,” Samayualie said. “Abusing is not the answer to all. We have to be treated like flowers.”
In a shift from her focus on the natural world, another drawing, titled “Sewing Supplies,” features colourful spools of thread, buttons and a roll of Red Heart chunky wool.
To create her drawings, Samayualie uses pencil crayons, markers, and occasionally watercolours. She draws an outline first with pencil, covers the sketch with a fine liner, and then erases the pencil and fills the page with colour.
The first drawing Samayualie recalls was one she submitted to a high school contest which focused on mining. She drew an image of four men mining soap stone, and won first prize.
But Samayualie didn’t start drawing seriously until she was in her 20s.
Although she died before Samayulaie was born, she said she’s been inspired by the work of her late grandmother Keeleemeeomee Samayualie, who contributed to the Cape Dorset annual print collection.
Today, her biggest supporters are her two older sons, Nathan, 12 and Noah Johnny, 11.
“Whenever I show them my art, they tell me what they think, or they tell me they like it,” Samayualie said. “I’m supporting my boys with my art.”
Samayualie was studying social services at Nunavut Arctic College in Cambridge Bay last year; today she makes a small living off the work she sells to the West Baffin Cooperative and through Cape Dorset’s annual print collection.
Samayualie said she hopes to take part in an artists’ retreat this summer at the Banff Centre for the Arts in Alberta.
Her solo exhibit runs at Feheley Fine Arts until March 28.