Unikkaatuat/Inuit Stories

Germaine Arnaktauyok, When There was no Sun, 1997

Until the 20th century Inuit knowledge and traditions were passed down orally through the generations and storytelling was an important art form. Some stories were exclusive to specific areas while others recurred with surprising similarity throughout the Arctic.  The stories fulfilled many purposes: to pass the time, entertain, instruct, and preserve important values. The more important legends were repeated in relatively unchanged form over many generations. Others were improvisations on events such as a hunting accident or the beauty of a season. In the modern day, Inuit stories continue to represent the cultural memory of the community and are a continuous source of inspiration for Inuit artists.

Unikkaatuat/Inuit Stories features prints, drawings, and sculptures from the WAG’s collection of Inuit art. Artists from different generations across the Arctic have transformed traditional oral storytelling to visual artworks through a variety of artistic media.  They reveal their own interpretations of the natural and spirit worlds, creation myths, stories of heroes and their epic journeys, fabulous beings, animal fables, as well as accounts of true events and life experiences.  The artworks depict hunting accidents, abductions, personal conflicts, cruel fates of orphans and old people, and tell stories dealing with healing and morality. Some artists bring to light lesser known legends through their own research of accounts from the past.

The legend of the powerful Inuit sea goddess, known as Sedna, Taleelayuk, or Nuliajuk, is one of the most popular subjects in Inuit art. She was considered the source of the sea animals on which Inuit depended for survival.  Also extensive is the representation of the Inuit shaman who was believed to be the mediator between the human and spirit worlds.

Each of the artists in this exhibition has used his or her mode of expression to continue the tradition of storytelling, providing insight into the life and beliefs of the Inuit.

Uriash Puqiqnak, Qauqyagyuk Iqayuqtia (Kiviuq and His Spirit Helpers), 1995


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