Excerpt from Itee Pootoogook
For National Indigenous History Month, we have been highlighting the Indigenous artists whose works we have had the honour of publishing. As today is National Indigenous Peoples Day, we would like to share an excerpt from Itee Pootoogook: Hymns to the Silence, which received the Melva J. Dwyer Award this year. Itee Pootoogook passed away from cancer in 2014, but he contributed to the transformation of the creative traditions inherited from his elders at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative’s Kinngait Studios.
For those near Whistler, BC, the accompanying exhibition for Itee Pootoogook: Hymns to the Silence is currently on tour at the Audain Art Museum until September 6, 2021.
ᑭᓱᒃᑲᓐᓂᖅᑎᒍᓪᓕ ᐊᔾᔨᐅᖏᑦᑐᓂᒃ ᐊᐃᑏ ᐳᑐᒍᖅ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᓚᐅᖅᐸ? ᓲᕐᓗ ᐊᔾᔨᒋᑎᑕᐅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᑲᓇᑕᒥ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔨᖅᑎᒻᒪᕆᐅᔪᓄᑦ ᖃᓪᓗᓈᑦ ᓄᓇᖓᓂᕐᒥᐅᑕᓄᑦ ᐆᒧᖓ ᑎᒻ ᔭᒃᒧᑦ (ᐃᓅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ 1947-ᒥᑦ)4, ᑭᕆᔅᑕᕗ ᐳᕌᑦᒧᓪᓗ (ᐃᓅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ 1935-ᒥᑦ) ᐅᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᐆᒧᖓ ᐋᓕᒃᔅ ᑯᓪᕕᐅᓪᒧᑦ (1920-2013). ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᐊᔾᔨᒋᑎᑕᐅᒐᓗᐊᖅᖢᑎᒃ, ᑎᑎᕋᐅᓯᕆᓗᒍ ᑖᓐᓇ ᐊᐃᑏ ᖃᐅᔨᒪᓚᐅᖏᑦᑎᐊᖅᑐᑦ ᑖᒃᑯᓂᖓ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑎᓂᒃ ᓴᓇᖃᑦᑕᖅᑕᕕᓂᖏᓐᓂᒃ. ᐊᐃᑏᑉ ᐊᔪᖏᓐᓂᖓ ᑕᑯᔭᐅᔪᓐᓇᖅᐳᖅ ᐃᓅᓯᓕᒫᒥᓂᒃ ᓴᓇᔪᓐᓇᕐᓂᖓᓂᒃ ᖃᐅᔨᓚᐅᖏᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᓱᓕ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕈᓐᓇᕐᓂᕐᒥᓂᒃ. ᐃᒡᓗᓕᐅᖅᑎᐅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᑮᓇᐅᔾᔭᒃᓴᕈᑎᒋᓪᓗᓂᐅᒃ, ᐊᔪᖏᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᖃᓄᖅ ᓲᕐᓗ ᐆᒃᑐᕋᐅᑎᒃᑯᑦ ᓇᓕᒧᒌᑦᑎᐊᖅᓯᒪᔪᓂᒃ, ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊᓗ ᑲᑎᓯᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᑐ. ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᐃᒡᓗᐃᑦ ᓴᓇᓯᒪᓂᖏᓐᓄᑦ ᐊᐃᑏᑉ ᐊᔪᕈᓪᓃᕈᑎᒋᔭᐅᖅᑕᖏᑦ ᓲᕐᓗ ᐊᖕᓕᑲᒃᑯᑦ ᐃᒡᓗᖁᑖ ᐅᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᓴᒪᔪᐊᓕ ᐳᑦᓚᑦ ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᕐᕕᒃ, ᓴᓇᑦᑎᐊᖅᓯᒪᕕᒡᔪᐊᕐᒪᑕ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐱᖓᓲᓕᖓᔪᒥᒃ ᑕᑯᒃᓴᐅᓪᓗᑎᒃ, ᑖᒃᑯᓇᖓᑦ ᑭᙵᕐᒥᐅᓄᑦ ᓴᓇᔭᐅᓂᑯᐃᑦ. ᐊᑐᖃᑦᑕᓚᐅᕐᒥᔪᖅ ᑕᖅᓴᓂᒃ ᓲᕐᓗ ᐊᔾᔨᓕᐅᖅᓯᒪᔫᑉ ᐊᔾᔨᒋᓪᓗᓂᒋᑦ ᐅᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᐃᖅᑲᐅᒪᔭᖏᓐᓂᒃ ᐊᑐᖅᖢᓂ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᐊᐃᑏ. ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᓯᒪᔭᖏᑦᑕᐅᖅ ᕿᕐᓂᖅᑐᒥᒃ ᐅᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᕿᕐᓂᕈᔪᒃᑐᒥᒃ ᐸᐃᑉᐹᒥᒃ ᐊᑐᖅᖢᓂ, ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᑕᖅᓴᓖᑦ ᑕᑯᒃᓴᐅᑦᑎᐊᖅᑐᑦ ᐱᐅᔪᓂᖅᐹᖑᖃᑕᐅᔪᑦ ᑭᙵᓂᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖃᕐᕕᐊᓂᑦ ᓴᓇᔭᐅᔪᕕᓃᑦ.
What else makes Itee Pootoogook unique among his contemporaries? Comparisons have been made to Canadian artists from the South such as Tim Zuck (b. 1947), Christopher Pratt (b. 1935), or Alex Colville (1920–2013). While these comparisons are valid, it is important to note that Itee would have been unaware of their work. Instead, Itee’s style can be seen as an extension of his working life before he found his way back to art. He was a carpenter by trade, and had an appreciation of the precision of geometry, planes, and joints. His renderings of buildings in Kinngait, such as the Anglican Mission House or the Samayualie Pudlat School, are precise down to the finest detail, and they are three-dimensional representations, a relatively recent practice in the work coming out of Kinngait. He also used distinctive touches of colour that were true to the photographic or remembered source while also maintaining the balance of the whole. His manipulated images on black or dark paper, in which slashes of colour radiate with exquisite restraint, are among the finest to come out of the Kinngait Studios.
ᐊᔪᖏᓐᓂᐊᓂᖅ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕐᓂᕐᒧᑦ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓄᑖᓂᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕋᓱᒃᐸᒃᖢᓂ ᐊᐃᑏ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᓚᐅᖅᐳᖅ ᐊᒥᓱᓂᒃ, ᓴᓇᕙᒃᖢᓂᓗ ᑕᕙᓂ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖃᕐᕕᖕᒥᑦ ᐃᑲᕐᕋᓂᒃ 7-ᓂᒃ, ᐅᓪᓗᓂ ᑕᓪᓕᒪᓂᒃ ᐱᓇᓱᐊᕈᓯᑕᒫᑦ. ᖃᐅᔨᔪᒪᑦᑎᐊᖃᑦᑕᓚᐅᕐᒪᑦ ᖃᓄᑐᐃᓐᓇᖅ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕐᓂᕐᒥᒃ ᑕᐃᒪᓕ ᓯᕗᒻᒧᐊᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ “ᓯᕗᒻᒧᐊᖅᖢᓂ ᓴᙱᓂᕐᒥᒃ ᓴᙱᓂᕐᒧᑦ, ᐊᔪᖏᓐᓂᕐᒥᒃ ᐊᔪᖏᓐᓂᕐᒧᑦ”5 ᐱᖓᓱᑦ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑕᕕᓂᖏᑦ ᐃᓚᒋᔭᐅᓚᐅᖅᐳᑦ ᐱᐅᒋᔭᐅᓂᖅᐹᓂᒃ ᐃᓄᐃᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖏᓐᓂᒃ ᑕᕙᓂ Inuit Modern ᑕᑯᔭᒐᖃᕐᕕᐊᓂᑦ ᑕᕙᓂ Art Gallery of Ontario 2011, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᒪᕐᕉᓪᓗᑎᒃ ᑕᑯᒃᓴᐅᑎᑕᐅᓪᓗᑎᒃ ᐃᓚᒋᔭᐅᓚᕆᕗᖅ ᐱᖃᑎᖃᖅᖢᓂ ᖃᓪᓗᓈ ᓄᓇᖓᓂᕐᒥᐅᑕᕐᒥᒃ ᑎᒻ ᔭᒃᒥᒃ ᑕᕙᓂ ᒪᒃᓕᐅᕋᓐ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕐᕕᐊᓂᑦ ᐹᕆᒥᑦ 2012-ᖑᑎᓪᓗᒍ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐃᓚᒋᔭᐅᓚᐅᖅᖢᓂ ᐃᖏᖅᑎᒥᒃ ᑕᑯᒃᓴᐅᑎᑕᐅᔪᒥᒃ ᑕᕙᓂ ᕙᓐᑰᕙᒥᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖃᕐᕕᐊᓂᒃ 2013-ᖑᑎᓪᓗᒍ. ᓱᓕ ᐊᕐᕌᒍ ᐃᓚᖓᓂᑦ ᐃᓚᐅᑎᑕᐅᓚᐅᕆᕗᖅ ᑕᕙᓂ ᓴᑲᕼᐊᓐ: ᓯᓚᕐᔪᐊᕐᒥᑦ ᓄᓇᖃᖅᑳᖅᓯᒪᔪᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᓕᐅᖅᑎᓂᒃ, ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖃᕐᕕᖕᒥᓗ ᑲᓇᑕᒥᑦ ᑕᑯᒃᓴᐅᑎᑕᐅᒋᓪᓗᓂ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓴᓇᔭᕕᓂᖏᑦ ᑲᑎᖅᓱᖅᑕᐅᓚᐅᕆᕗᑦ ᑖᒃᑯᓇᖓᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᖓᓕᐅᖅᑎᓂᒃ ᐋᓐᑎᐊᕆᔭᒥᑦ, ᓴᓇᐅᒐᓕᐅᖅᑎᓂᒃ ᑲᓇᑕᒥᑦ, ᑮᓇᐅᔭᖃᕐᕕᖕᒥᑦ ᒪᓐᑐᕆᐊᒥᑦ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ TD ᑮᓇᐅᔭᖃᕐᕕᐊᓂᑦ.
ᐊᐅᑖᖑᒐᓗᐊᑎ, ᐊᐃᑏ ᐃᓅᔪᓐᓃᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᖕᒪᑦ ᑳᓐᓱᒧᑦ ᐅᑭᐅᖃᖅᖢᓂ 66-ᓂᒃ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓄᖅᑲᕈᑎᒋᓪᓗᓂᐅᒃ ᓴᓇᖃᑦᑕᖅᑕᖏᓐᓂᒃ ᐱᕙᓪᓕᐊᑐᐃᓐᓇᕈᑎᒋᓚᐅᖅᑕᖓᓄᑦ ᐊᔪᕈᓐᓃᖅᐸᓪᓕᐊᓪᓗᓂ. ᑭᓯᐊᓂᓕ, ᓲᕐᓗ ᑖᒃᑯᓄᖓ ᐊᓯᖏᑦ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑎᐅᔪᓄᑦ, ᓲᕐᓗ ᐋᓂ ᐳᑐᒍᖅ, ᔫᑕᐃ ᑐᓐᓄ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓱᕕᓇᐃ ᐊᓲᓇ, ᐊᐃᑏᑉ ᓴᓇᖃᑦᑕᓚᐅᖅᑕᖏᑦ ᒪᑐᐃᕈᑕᐅᓚᐅᖅᐳᖅ ᒪᒃᑯᖕᓂᖅᓴᐅᔪᓄᑦ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑎᓄᑦ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᑕᑯᖃᑦᑕᕐᒪᑕ ᐃᓐᓇᕆᓚᐅᖅᑕᖏᑦᑕ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖃᑦᑕᖅᑕᕕᓂᖏᓐᓂ ᓲᕐᓗ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕈᑎᒋᕙᓕᖅᖢᓂᔾᔪᒃ ᓄᑖᓂᒃ ᐊᔾᔨᑲᓴᖏᓐᓂᒃ. ᐊᔪᕈᓐᓃᕈᑎᒋᒃᑲᓐᓂᓚᐅᖅᑕᖓᓕ ᐃᒃᐱᒋᔭᐅᔪᓐᓇᖅᐳᖅ, ᓲᕐᓗ ᑖᓱᒪ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᒃᑕᖏᑦᑎᑐᑦ ᐸᑦᓗ ᓴᒪᔪᐊᓕᐅᑉ (ᐃᓅᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ 1977-ᒥᑦ), ᑖᓐᓇ ᑕᑯᓇᓱᒃᐸᖕᒪᑦ ᓴᓇᓯᒪᔪᓂᒃ ᐃᒡᓗᓂ ᑭᙵᓂᑦ, ᐅᕙᓘᓐᓃᑦ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖏᓐᓂᒃ ᑖᓱᒪ ᑎᒻ ᐱᑦᓯᐅᓛᑉ, ᐊᑐᖅᐸᒃᑐᖅ ᐊᔾᔨᓕᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᓂᒃ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐱᖓᓲᓕᖓᔪᓂᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᒃᖢᓂ ᓯᓚᖑᐊᓂᒃ ᓂᕐᔪᑎᖑᐊᓂᒡᓗ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐊᖑᓇᓱᖑᐊᖅᑐᓂᒃ ᐊᒻᒪ ᖃᑕᐅᒫᑦ ᐃᓅᓯᕆᔭᐅᔪᓂᒃ ᐊᑐᖅᑕᐅᕙᒃᑐᓂᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᖕᒪᑦ. ᑕᐃᒪᓕ ᓂᐱᖃᖏᑦᑐᒦᖢᓂ ᐊᐃᑏ ᓴᓇᔭᖏᑦ ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗᒃ ᓴᓇᓯᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᐸᒃᑐᑦ ᐊᑐᖅᖢᓂ ᑕᖅᓴᓕᖕᓂᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᑎᓂᒃ ᐸᐃᑉᐹᒃᑯᑦ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᑭᓇᑐᐃᓐᓇᐅᑉ ᑖᔅᓱᒪ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑎᐅᑉ ᐊᔪᖏᑦᑎᐊᕐᓂᖓᓂᒃ ᐃᒃᐱᒍᓱᒃᐸᒃᑐᑦ.
With his strong work ethic and his desire to experiment, Itee produced drawing after drawing, working at the studio for seven hours a day, five days a week. His openness to experimentation allowed him “to move from strength to strength, triumph to triumph.” Three of his works were included in the acclaimed Inuit Modern exhibition at the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2011, and he had a two-man show with Tim Zuck at the MacLaren Art Centre in Barrie in 2012, followed by a solo exhibition at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery in 2013. In that same year he was included in Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art, the National Gallery of Canada’s acclaimed exhibition, and his work has been collected by the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, Bank of Montreal, and TD Bank.
Tragically, Itee’s death from cancer at age sixty-three put an end to a career that was just coming fully to fruition. Like other artists of his generation such as Annie Pootoogook, Jutai Toonoo, and Shuvinai Ashoona, Itee had a unique vision that helped open the door to a younger generation of artists at the studio who looked to their Elders for new ways of seeing. His influence can be felt, for example, in the work of Padloo Samayualie (b. 1977), who explores the architecture of Kinngait, or the work of Tim Pitsiulak, who also used photographs and the three-dimensional rendering of space to depict animals and scenes of hunting and daily life. Silence and stillness resonate from Itee’s works in coloured pencil on paper, and one can sense the artist’s absorption in making them.
ᒫᓐᓇᓕ ᑕᐃᒪ ᐱᑕᖃᕈᓐᓃᕐᒪᑦ, ᐃᖅᑲᐅᒻᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᐳᖓ ᐅᖃᓪᓚᖃᑎᒋᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᒐᒃᑯ ᐊᐃᑏ ᑐᕌᓐᑐᒦᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᒪᑐᐃᖅᓯᓂᐊᖅᑎᓪᓗᒋ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖑᐊᓂᒃ 2010-ᖑᑎᓪᓗᒍ. ᑕᐃᓐᓇ ᐊᑯᓂᐅᓂᖅᐹᖅ ᐅᖃᓪᓚᖃᑎᒋᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔭᕋ, ᑲᑎᖃᑦᑕᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᒐᓗᐊᖅᓗᓄᒃ ᐊᒥᓱᐃᖅᓱᖅᖢᓄᒃ ᐅᑭᐅᖅᑕᖅᑐᒥ ᓂᐅᕐᕈᕙᒃᑎᓪᓗᒍ. ᐃᖅᑲᐅᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᐳᖓ ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗᒃ ᐱᐅᔪᒋᔾᔪᑎᖃᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᐸᒃᑕᖏᓐᓂᒃ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᑐᙵᓱᒃᑎᑦᑎᐊᖅᐸᒃᖢᓂᒋᑦ ᑕᑯᔭᖅᑐᖅᑐᑦ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᖅᑕᖏᓐᓂᒃ. ᐊᑐᖅᐸᓚᐅᖅᑐᑦ ᐊᒡᒐᒥᓂᒃ ᐆᒃᑐᕋᐅᑎᖃᖅᓗᓂ ᑐᑭᓯᑎᓐᓇᓱᒃᖢᓂᖓ. ᑭᖑᓂᐊᒍᑦ ᑖᒃᑯᐊ ᑕᑯᔭᖅᑐᖅᓯᒪᔪᑦ ᐊᓂᓯᒪᓕᖅᑎᓪᓗᒋᑦ, ᑯᑭᑦᑕᐹᒥᓂᒃ ᐱᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᓂᐱᑭᖢᓂ ᑎᑕᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᑕᕙᓂ ᓴᓇᐅᒐᖃᕐᕕᖕᒥ, ᓴᐃᓕᓯᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᖢᓂ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐃᖢᕆᓯᒪᑦᑎᐊᖅᖢᓂ ᑕᐅᑐᒃᑕᐅᓪᓗᓂᓗ ᐃᓄᑭᑦᑐᑯᓗᖕᓂᑦ ᐃᓄᖕᓂᒃ.
ᑭᙵᕐᓂ ᐃᓐᓇᕆᔭᐅᔪᖅ ᔨᒥ ᒫᓂᖕ, ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᖃᑎᖃᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ ᐊᐃᑏᒥᑦ, ᐅᖃᐅᑎᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᖕᒫᖓ ᐊᐃᑏᒎᖅ ᓈᓴᐅᓯᕆᓂᕐᒥᑦ ᐊᔪᖏᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᖅᓯᒪᔪᖅ. “ᑭᒃᑯᑐᐃᓐᓇᕐᓂᒃ ᐃᓕᓐᓂᐊᖃᑎᒥᓂᒃ ᐊᖑᒻᒪᑎᔭᐅᔪᓐᓇᓚᐅᖏᑦᑐᖅ ᓈᓴᐅᓯᕆᑎᓪᓗᒍ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᖃᐅᔨᓇᓱᒃᑲᓐᓂᖅᖢᓂ ᓈᓴᐅᓯᕆᓂᕐᒥᑦ”6 ᔨᒥᐅᑉ ᐅᖃᐅᑎᓚᐅᕐᒥᔮᖓ ᐊᐃᑏ ᐅᒃᐱᒻᒪᕆᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ “ᐊᒃᓱᐊᓗ ᐅᖃᓕᒫᕈᓐᓇᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ ᐃᔾᔪᔪᓂᒃ ᑐᒃᓯᐊᕐᕕᖕᒥ” ᐊᐃᑏ ᐳᑐᒍᖅ ᐅᒃᐱᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᖅᑐᖅ, ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐃᓛᓐᓂᒃᑯᑦ ᑐᒃᓯᐊᖅᑎᑦᑎᔨᐅᕙᒃᖢᓂ. ᑕᒪᒃᑯᐊ ᐊᑐᖅᐸᓚᐅᖅᑕᖏᑦ — ᓲᕐᓗ ᓈᓴᐅᓯᕆᒃᑲᐅᓂᖓ ᐊᒻᒪᓗ ᐅᒃᐱᕐᓂᖓ — ᐃᑲᔪᕈᑕᐅᔪᒃᓴᐅᕗᖅ ᐅᕙᑦᑎᓐᓄᑦ ᑖᔅᓱᒪ ᐊᖑᑎᐅᑉ ᐊᔪᖏᑦᑎᐊᓚᐅᕐᓂᖓᓂᒃ ᑎᑎᕋᐅᔭᕐᓂᕐᒥᒃ.
Now that he is gone, I remember in particular one conversation I had with Itee when he was in Toronto for the opening of an exhibition in 2010. This was probably our longest conversation, despite our many meetings during my visits to the North. I remember how proud he was of his drawings, and how humbled he was that people came to see his work. He gestured with his hands to great effect during our conversation. Later, after the patrons had left, he brought out his guitar and played quietly in the gallery, feeling relaxed and comfortable in the smaller group.
Kinngait Elder Jimmy Manning, who was a schoolmate of Itee’s, told me that Itee had been excellent at math. None of the other students, he said, “could keep up with his calculations and curiosity.” Jimmy also told me he was a spiritual man who was “really good at reading the Holy Bible in services at the church.” Itee Pootoogook had been a believer, at times serving as a lay minister in the community. These traits — a precise mathematical aptitude on the one hand and spirituality on the other — perhaps help us understand the range of the man and his work.
Excerpted from Itee Pootoogook: Hymns to the Silence copyright © 2019 by Goose Lane Editions and the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, written by Nancy Campbell.