I am glad that the staff of Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ) decided to do a special issue on artmaking in Nunavik.1 Some Nunavamiut feel that their art does not receive as much attention as art from other areas. I am aware that the art of Nunavik, where I live, is not being seen as much in galleries these days, and people do not write much about it. One of the reasons for this may be that we are not making as much art as we used to.
Although jobs are still scarce in northern villages, some people prefer to work for wages instead of carving. There was a time - not very long ago - when making art was about the only way we had to support ourselves. There are still many of us producing art, but I find younger people are not taking up carving, even though many of them have talent.
Maybe one reason for this is that we have so much trouble getting stone. Nunavik carvers find it hard to accumulate enough money to go for stone; the price being paid for artwork at this time is so low that only a few of us can afford to quarry stone. This means that “would-be” artists - our young people - are unable to get started, since they don’t have the money they need in order to purchase art supplies and, to make the problem worse, many don’t know how to travel on the land to find the quarry sites. Carvers in Ivujivik (my home community) and Salluit, Akulivik, and Puvirnituq, quarry our stone during the winter, because there are no roads to the quarry, and it is easier to travel over the snow. Easier, but it takes skill to read the land and find your way.
There was a time - not very long ago - when making art was about the only way we had to support ourselves”
The work of carving takes all kinds of knowledge: knowledge of the land, so that you can find your way to the quarry site, and when you are there, knowledge of the site, so that you will know where to dig in the snow. And, of course, it takes knowledge to get the stone out of the ground. It also takes money - to buy quarrying tools, and gas to get there.
And it takes more time than you would think to get just a few hundred pounds of stone. Where I live, we need at least three people, with snowmobiles and money to buy gas and food to last for a week, to do the job safely and successfully. That’s how long it takes to get enough stone to bring back to town for three people to work for awhile. These are the things that have to happen before you can even begin to think of making art in Nunavik.
This editorial was published in Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall):3
1 “Making Art in Nunavik: A Brief Historical Overview,” by Marybelle Mitchell, was published in Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall):4-17