Kananginak Pootoogook, (Inuit, Cape Dorset, Canada, 1935–2010)
Untitled (Successful Walrus Hunt), 2009
Colored pencil and ink
48 x 96 inches
Reproduced with the permissions of Dorset Fine Arts
“I am happy to continue making drawings of animals and humans having a good life and enjoying themselves. It disturbs me when I see images of people drinking and committing suicide; I want to focus on more positive images.”
— Kananginak Pootoogook
Kanaginak Pootoogook, nicknamed the “Audobon of the North” is known for his realistic portrayal of Arctic birds and wildlife. A respected elder of his community, Kananginak was a prominent artist of the Cape Dorset Cooperative and became well-known for his use of many different mediums, including lithography, painting, etching, and stone sculpture, gaining notoriety beyond the Inuit art world before his recent death. Kanaginak’s earliest pieces focused primarily on the portrayal of Arctic wildlife; in later years he states an influence from younger artists compelled him to expand the scope of his subject matter to include more politically and socially charged works. Kananginak celebrates the lifestyle of the Cape Dorset community, portraying the slow and almost imperceptible changes made as they adapt to colonial influence. This piece is the second largest piece he ever completed, as well as one of his last works, which emphasizes the importance of the hunt to past and present Inuit lifestyle. Part of his intense appeal to the Inuit community comes from his belief that art should be a collaborative experience and process, echoed in his depiction of the teamwork between the Inuit hunters in this work.
Through a combination of various perspectives and an intense level of detail, this piece reveals a daily part of Inuit life, the catching of walrus, seals, and other Arctic animals. This intentional use of opposing perspectives might be explained by Kananginak’s approach to the depiction of time, as he says, “I have a little computer in my brain… It is as if I take a slow motion camera shot of a person in motion.” Kananginak, who relished in bringing the “happy” moments of Inuit life to art, depicts a walrus hunt, where the artist himself can be seen leaning over the boat. From his personal experience as a subsistence hunter, he brings a specific knowledge of the animals and hunting techniques to the work, as well as a respect for life in all its forms. On the far left of the boat, one can see an Inuit hunter inflating sealskin to be used as a buoy while harpooning larger animals, an innovative technique, called avataq, that shows respect for an animal’s life by making use of all its parts.
From the curvature of the boat to the circular arrangement of Inuit hunters to the use of all animal parts, Kananginak is able to highlight the Inuit belief in the cyclical nature of life and creation. Through the contrast of the engine to the wooden boat, and the guns to the harpoons, (Untitled) Successful Walrus Hunt illustrates Inuit people’s continuous engagement with the non-Inuit world. By unsettling Western preconceptions of contemporary Inuit experience as stagnant, while bringing to light the complexity of Inuit peoples and their experiences, Kananginak expresses Inuit peoples’ continued resistance to negative stereotypes forced upon them by Western society.
Kamaria Mion ’14 and Alex Schlesinger ’14