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Meet Judas Ullulaq

Judas Ullulaq. Amayuqyuq and Qallupilluq, 1996. whale bone, ivory, stone. Left figure: 30.5 x 14.5 x 8.5 cm; Right figure: 26.5 x 12.5 x 7.5 cm; Child: 8.5 x 9.2 x 2.6 cm. G-97-2.

I first met Judas Ullulaq (1937-1999) in Gjoa Haven in October 1982.

At the time, I was working with Canadian Arctic Producers (CAP), the central marketing agency for Arctic Co-operatives Ltd., and learned that Ullulaq had just moved from Taloyoak that year. He had been one of a small group of people in Taloyoak (then Spence Bay) that began making carvings from ancient whalebone in the late-1960s. My trip was to learn more about the wildly original bone and stone sculptures that had been arriving in the CAP warehouse in Ottawa. Many of these were by Ullulaq and I was eager to encourage his work.

I returned to the Nattilingmiut communities of Gjoa Haven, Taloyoak, and Kugaaruk several times in the following years and organized a number of commercial exhibitions. My interest in the art of the region continued after taking up my position as Curator of Inuit Art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1986, and I made another trip in May of the following year. I found that artists were having difficulties obtaining carving materials. I had asked Ullulaq to create a whale bone sculpture for the WAG, but he sadly explained that he had no bone. However, word went out in the community and he excitedly returned to tell me that a hunter had just returned with a large piece of bone. We agreed that I would pay for the bone in exchange for the carving he would create. I took a photograph of him with the bone tied to his komatik. He was so excited to have the bone that he roared off home, forgetting that he was to take me back to the co-op hotel. It was a long walk back!

Ullulaq with a new piece of whale bone – May 1987

By the mid-1990s, I had plunged into research for a major exhibition of the art of the region—Art and Expression of the Netsilik (1997). This included another trip in 1996 to interview the artists and collect their stories of artworks selected for the exhibition. Shortly after returning back to Winnipeg, I received a carving from the Gjoa Haven co-op that has become one of my favourite pieces by Ullulaq. Joseph Suqslak, Ullulaq’s nephew, had worked with me when I was in Gjoa Haven, and again helped me receive the story behind the carving from his uncle.

I learned that the two creatures he depicted were Amayuqyuq and Qallupilluq, well-known and dangerous female entities in the oral culture of the Nattilingmiut. “Amayuqyuq” means “kidnapper of little children.” This story about a fearsome female abductor was told to children to keep them from wandering too far from their camp and getting into danger with wild animals, or from getting lost. Amayuqyuq is the figure on the right who clutches a terrified child.

The figure on the left holding a fish hook is Qallupilluq who repeatedly makes a “Qallupilluq” sound. As she was believed to snatch and abduct tasty children at the seashore, this story was told to keep them from going to a dangerous area. It deterred them from venturing near the floe edge where they might jump onto dangerous ice floes which could break and drift away. Ullulaq has shown these two fierce creatures together for dramatic impact.

Ullulaq explained that he took readily to carving in 1961 because he always enjoyed making craft items. He recalled joining the women while they did their sewing when he was still a boy living in an iglu. He particularly enjoyed sewing dolls and this interest in the human figure continued into his sculpture. His art is very much concerned with human activity and emotions. Expressive eyes and mouths register a wide range of emotions and even his animals have human-like personalities. He was a true pleasure to know, always cheerful, optimistic, considerate and generous. He loved to laugh, and his sculptures often seem to reflect the wide smile for which he was known. He gained many friends when he came to the opening of Art and Expression of the Netsilik in December 1997.

Ullulaq prided himself on his fine detailing and his originality. In 1983, he told me that the most important thing for him was to be original, and Amayuqyuq and Qallupilluq is a great example of this goal. He did not want to copy the style and subjects of other carvers, and made a conscious effort to make each piece different. This was a tremendous challenge given the huge body of work he was to create over the years, but he drew on his extensive knowledge of stories to create a wide diversity of subjects while maintaining a high degree of workmanship.

Darlene Coward Wight
Curator of Inuit Art


4 thoughts on "Meet Judas Ullulaq"

Richard Mohr says:

Any one seriously interested in Inuit art will want to get their hands on a copy of Darlene Wight’s _Art and Expression of the Netsilik_ (1997)

Ian Sutherland says:

Hi Darlene, Enjoyed your story of Judas U. Judy and I visited him at Gjoa Haven in about April, 96. We have 2 of his carvings, which are truly unique. He was working on a carving outside in bare feet with some snow still on the ground. He was outside to avoid the stone dust polluting his house. Probably not good for his health. Regards Ian and Judy Sutherland

Leah Erickson says:

As usual, your articles increase not only my knowledge, but my profound respect for your knowledge of these fine people and artists.
Thank you a thousand times.
Leah Erickson

Nancy Ullulaq says:

It would be nice to keep one of his carvings ❤️ Would mean the world to me.

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