Shifting Forms: The Work of Inuit Artist Irene Avaalaaqiaq

by Lindsay Shapka in ,


Human Changing Into a Seal and a Bird With a Muskox, 2005             Irene Avaalaaqiaq

A leading member of the prolific Inuit artistic community of Baker Lake, Nunavut in Canada's far North, Irene Avaalaaqiaq (meaning "willow" in Inuktitut) has spent the last 30 years known as one of the most prominent Inuit artists in Canada. 

Though Avaalaaqiaq started her artistic career with soapstone carvings, drawing and printmaking, she is most well known for her bold and colourful wall hangings. According to the artist, these works are inspired largely by her experience growing up as an orphan and the legends told to her by her grandmother. 

These legends spoke of a time — not too long ago — when animals talked like human beings, people and animals could shift forms, and myth and reality intercepted. For the most part, the Inuit culture is passed down through oral traditions, not printed texts, and through her stunning wall hangings, Avaalaaqiaq found a way to preserve the stories of her culture and make it accessible to outsiders.  

The pieces — like the one above — show a scene taking place at dusk or dawn, which are considered to be magical times of transformation. 

For more information, the McGill-Queen's University Press has published a beautiful book showcasing the artist's work and her fascinating life.