Canadian eastern Arctic: 2 Inuit artists share Nunavut Commissioner’s Arts Award

Master carver Jaco Ishulutaq, at work here on a carving, is a co-winner of this year’s Nunavut Commissioner’s Arts Award. (Ajjiliuqsijuviniq Museum of Inuit Art)
Susan Avinngaq of Igloolik and Jaco Ishulutaq from Pangnirtung are the winners of the 2018 Nunavut Commissioner’s Arts Award. Both artists will receive a $5,000 cash prize and a certificate of recognition of their outstanding contribution to Nunavut visual arts.

The Commissioner’s Arts Award was launched in 2007 to recognize and support accomplished Nunavut artists.

Avinngaq is an Inuit artist of many disciplines: storyteller, performer, author, illustrator, and costume designer. Nunavut Commissioner Nellie Kusugak said that over Avinngaq’s more than 25-year career, preserving Inuit culture has been a constant aspect of her work.

“She donates so much of her time,” Kusugak said.

“She goes into the schools, she teaches wherever she can. She told me she will do everything she can to keep making sure we never forget who we are, where we come from, and to keep our culture alive.”

Sculptor Jaco Ishulutaq began carving at 16, and has earned an international profile.

He says he remembers being inspired by his grandfather.

“I remember, he used to carve walrus or narwhal tusks. That’s when I started carving as I was growing up,” Ishulutaq said in Inuktitut.

Nellie Kusugak, Nunavut’s deputy commissioner, says, ‘We need to recognize and acknowledge the talented people of Nunavut.’ (CBC)
‘We need to uplift each other’

Kusugak said this isn’t the first time two winners have been selected.

“The level of work for both of them was so equal and so very different,” she said.

“This year [the award committee] could not make up their mind because they believed both should be awarded.”

Kusugak said the award focuses on a different arts category every year. Last year the award focused on the performing arts; this year the award focused on the visual arts.

“I don’t decide this on my own. I consult with other people on what kind of artist haven’t we recognized before?”

There were eight nominees this year. Kusugak says the paperwork required to complete the nomination process can be daunting, and some nomination applications are left incomplete. But she encourages people to complete the process, and to nominate a person more than once.

“We need to recognize and acknowledge the talented people of Nunavut,” she said. “Life is not easy … we need to uplift each other.”

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Passing of celebrated Inuit carver Barnabus Arnasungaaq marks end of era, Radio Canada International

Finland: Sámi school preserves reindeer herders’ heritage with help of internet, Cryopolitics Blog

United States: Set of Indigenous Yup’ik masks reunited in Alaska after more than a century, CBC News

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