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Nunavik Art Alive - Artist Profiles - Davidialuk Alasua Ammitu

Davidialuk Alasua Ammitu (1910–1976)

Davidialuk was both perpetuator and creator.”

(Myers [Mitchell] in Povungnituk Print Collection, 1977)

ROOTS

Born in 1910 in a winter camp called Nunavgirnaraq, Davidialuk grew up at his family’s main camp at the mouth of the Kugaaluq River (Wight 2006:117). He remained in the area with his extended family (including his cousin Joe Talirunili) until his mother remarried, at which time the group moved to the Isuuqsiuvik River/Saputiligait area. Finally, in 1951, after an economic crisis spurred by plummeting prices for furs in the late 1940s, Davidialuk settled in the newly-established community of Puvirnituq.

WHEN AND HOW HE GOT STARTED

As is the case with many first-generation artists, Davidialuk did not start producing art until much later in his life. After settling in Puvirnituq at the age of 40, he was encouraged to carve and began using wood, ivory, and pieces of stone from old lamps. His skills quickly developed and Davidialuk was able to make a name for himself by depicting old stories and myths in carvings and prints. Fellow artist Johnny Pov explains: “Poor because he was the descendant of poor people . . . Davidialuk became a real self supporting man through his carvings” (Myers [Mitchell] 1977a).

INFLUENCES

Widely respected as a storyteller, Davidialuk was greatly inspired by the stories and legends he heard as a child. Not confined by strict accuracy, however, he also used his artwork to convey “new versions of old legends and legend-like versions of new realities” (Myers [Mitchell] 1977b). He also wrote down and recorded countless myths and personal stories for posterity, “becoming a true chronicler of his people’s oral history” (Von Finckenstein 1999: 81).

MEDIA

Davidialuk was experienced in working with a wide array of artmaking techniques, which he applied to his sculptures, prints, and drawings. He produced mainly carvings in his early career and later concentrated on drawing and printmaking. While his sculptures are primarily carved from local stone, his works on paper are more varied and include stonecut prints, stencils, and drawings that often incorporate pencil, felt pen, and crayon. Interestingly, Davidialuk won an award in 1974 for one of his designs, which was translated into a batik and featured in Crafts from Arctic Canada, organized by the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council. Davidialuk’s prints were included in nearly every release of the annual Povungnituk Print Collections from 1962 to 1982.

UNIQUENESS

Davidialuk’s carvings and prints present a visual record of important aspects of the Inuit oral tradition. “One of the last of the mythmakers” (Lindsay 1976a), he excelled at representing mythical narratives and personal anecdotes, often blurring the line between the two.

SIGNIFICANT ACHIEVEMENTS

Highly regarded at an international level, Davidialuk’s work is included in important collections of Inuit art such as that of the National Gallery of Canada, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Glenbow Museum, the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, and the Royal Ontario Museum, to name a few. His pieces have been exhibited in countless exhibitions throughout Canada and abroad, and have been featured in a wide variety of publications.

ARTISTIC DEVELOPMENT

Best known for his sculptures and prints, which often portrayed mythological elements, Davidialuk’s work also frequently dealt with issues of survival. Although two of his earliest documented sculptures from 1951 and 1952 deal with mystical themes, the bulk of his early practice was essentially figurative: men jig for fish; women retrieve water and care for children; animals lay wounded during the hunt. By the late 1950s/early 1960s, however, his work had begun to incorporate the more mythological elements for which he would become known. Legendary creatures such as Kajutajuk, half fish, and Lumaaq began to appear in his carvings, as did old stories about the aurora borealis and a woman taken as the wife of an eagle. One of the few artists of his generation to depict scenes of domestic violence, Davidialuk did not shy away from the portrayal of tragic events, such as murders, remembered from his own lifetime. His account of Nauyavinaaluk Killing (1961) and the story of Naujuvinaaluk and Ningiuqvilaaq (1965) are excellent examples of this, as are his chilling adaptations of Woman Strangling a Child (circa 1960s) and A man called Anahautik was killing people long ago, which was included in the 1973 Puvirnituq print catalogue.

Concentrating mainly on works on paper from the 1970s onwards, Davidialuk would often incorporate text into his detailed drawings of personal recollections, many of which dealt with his community’s early interactions with white men. His work continued to be peppered with scenes of violence, personal accounts, and myths and legends passed down from generation to generation until his untimely death in 1976.

Davidialuk was extremely productive in the last few years of his life; he produced an immense body of work during that time. Ironically, his death came just days before the opening of a major one-man showing of his sculpture at Fleet Gallery in Winnipeg. The exhibition, therefore, became a posthumous celebration of his larger body of work. “Having spent his life telling, writing, drawing, and carving stories, it was as if, in his last years, he was driven to document all that was in his head” (Myers [Mitchell] 1977b).

REFERENCES

Craig, Mary M.

1976 Povungnituk Print Catalogue. Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Hessel, Ingo

2002 Inuit Art. Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre.

Lindsay, Ian

1976a “Davidialuk of Puvungnituk: Myth-Maker,” foreword in Davidialuk (catalogue). Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.
1976b “Spokesman for the Old Way,” foreword to Povungnituk 1976 (catalogue). Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Myers (Mitchell), Marybelle


1977a Davidialuk (catalogue). Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.
1977b Povungnituk Print Collection (catalogue). Montreal: La Fédération des Coopératives du Nouveau-Québec.

Von Finckenstein, Maria


1999 Celebrating Inuit Art 1948–1970. Ottawa: Canadian Museum of Civilization.
1998 “Making Art in Nunavik: A Brief Historical Overview,” Inuit Art Quarterly (IAQ), vol. 13, no. 3 (Fall): 4–17.

Wight, Darlene

2006 Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture 1949–1955.Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery.