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Mother, daughter art team capture contemporary Cape Dorset

Toronto exhibit shows some of the darker realities of Inuit life



“Windows on Kinngait,” an art exhibit featuring the controversial drawings of the late Napachie Pootoogook and her daughter, Annie Pootoogook, opened June 18 at the Feheley Fine Arts gallery in Toronto. This is the first time Napachie and Annie’s work has ever been shown together outside of Cape Dorset.

“I’m very, very happy and very proud that I’m going to be having a show with my mother. I never thought that would be possible,” Annie, 36, said in Inuktitut. “Whenever I showed her drawings, she would start crying.”

Napachie, who died in 2002, was an established artist whose career spanned 40 years, and whose subject matter moved beyond the staples of Inuit art.

In the last five years of her life, Napachie began to depict life experiences that involved starvation, infanticide, abuse, and forced marriage. Her art also contains shamans, myth and superstition.

In contrast, Annie’s meticulously detailed drawings provide a wealth of information about contemporary life in an Arctic settlement. Her drawings show how traditional culture and southern material culture blend in an arctic settlement. At the same time they examine issues such as spousal abuse, drugs, alcohol and violence.

“I’m trying to portray how Inuit live today and I’m trying to showcase that to the audience,” said Annie.

Annie’s debut exhibition in southern Canada was at the Feheley gallery in 2003. This coming fall, the Power Plant in Toronto will host a solo exhibition of her works. The Power Plant is a prestigious public art gallery, which shows contemporary international art.

“I’m more grateful and more appreciative of more recognition. I’m really grateful of being recognized in that way,” Annie said.

There is currently an exhibition of the works Napachie completed during her last five years at the national gallery in Ottawa.

Pat Feheley, owner and director of Feheley Fine Arts, described Annie’s work as “narrative.”

“It’s depicting Inuit lifestyle but in her case it’s immediately contemporary lifestyle, so that there’s the culture, southern and northern… You’ll see a family sitting down to a meal with ketchup and co-op bought food with a seal,” said Feheley.

“They’re both great artists and what Napachie does with black and white is extraordinary with the composition. And Annie’s, of course, are highly coloured and beautiful, beautiful colour sense. Aesthetically they’re both top artists.”

Napachie and Annie’s works have never been shown together.

“It was an opportunity for me to put the two together and make this kind of point that I do believe that Napachie’s greater freedom of subject matter in her later life was quite revolutionary and it gave Annie more freedom to carry on the tradition,” said Feheley, who timed her show’s opening to the gallery in Ottawa.

The Feheley Fine Art gallery is concerned with supporting emerging contemporary artists, regardless of age. As well, Feheley Fine Arts keeps records of the art that comes through the studio in online and physical catalogues.

“Many of the Inuit galleries in the South put the pieces out and sell them but there’s no record for building the reputation of the artist, which of course is how artists become more and more known,” explained Feheley. “We only do Inuit art but we do it with a specific bent towards recording and documenting it.”

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