New ebook explores life and legacy of Canadian artist Annie Pootoogook

The cover of the new Art Canada Institute ebook on Nunavut artist Annie Pootoogook. (Courtesy Art Canada Institute)
Nunavut artist Annie Pootoogook was renowned for her drawings of day-to-day life in the Inuit community of Kinngait, and now a new ebook has been released, exploring her life and legacy.  Pootoogook is the fourth Arctic artist to be featured in the popular Art Canada Institute series.

The book, Annie Pootoogook – Life & Work, outlines her childhood growing up in Kinngait, her development as an artist and her explosion onto the Canadian contemporary art scene in the the 2000s, which included her landmark 2006 solo exhibition at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto and her winning of the Sobey Art Award that same year, a cash prize given annually to a notable Canadian contemporary artist under 40. 

The book was authored by Nancy Campbell, a curator and specialist in contemporary Inuit art who knew Pootoogook and also curated her solo Power Plant show.

‘Pootoogook changed the consciousness’

Campbell, who authored a previous book on Pootoogook titled Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice, said the ebook project was an opportunity to make Annie Pootoogook’s story accessible to an even wider public, and make sure her struggles with fame and substance abuse until her death at age 47 when she was found drowned in Ottawa’s Rideau River, didn’t overshadow her artistic legacy and the transformative impact she had on the contemporary Canadian art scene.

Annie Pootoogook at the Sobey Art Award 2006 exhibition at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, November 7, 2007. (Denis Bernier/Courtesy Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.)

“There was a lot of tragedy at the end of her life that got written about that sometimes overshadows her story,” Campbell said in a phone interview from Toronto. “That’s not to deny the facts of her life, but by only focusing on them, it takes away from the fact that she was an amazing artist.  She was full of wit and humour. She was a real narrator.  There’s a lot to celebrate about her life.”

Pootoogook’s winning of the Sobey Art Award was a pivotal moment, not just for the artist, but for the recognition it brought to contemporary Inuit art as whole, Campbell said.

“Here Annie comes, under 40, from a community no one has ever been to, with her small scale drawings and pencil crayons and blowing people’s minds,” Campbell said. “It was so far away from the process and the glam of contemporary art at that time.

“Her winning really opened up the consciousness.”

Annie Pootoogook: Ten key works
Annie Pootoogook, Eating Seal at Home, 2001, coloured pencil and ink on paper, 51 x 66.5 cm. Collection of John and Joyce Price. (Reproduced with the permission of Dorset Fine Arts)

Eating Seal at Home was singled out in the new Art Canada Institute ebook as one of Annie Pootoogook’s ten key works:

“Annie’s early drawings also introduce us to her iconography,” writes Campbell in her description. “In addition to the television, she includes a light switch, a lamp, and shoes at the door, careful to insert details of the everyday in the interior. These objects of daily life are repeated throughout Annie’s works, and this piece is therefore an important marker of her developing style.”

For the full descriptions of Pootoogook’s other pivotal works, visit the Key Works section of the new ebook.

Bringing Canadian art to everyone

The Pootoogook title is the latest in the Canadian Online Art Book Project, put out by the Art Canada Institute since 2013.  The goal of the series was to make Canadian art accessible to everyone from art scholars to high school students, and to anyone curious to find out more about some of the country’s major artists.

Six new titles are released each year. All books in the series are free to download or can be read online and are available in both English and French.

Arctic artists previously featured in ebook series:

Each book follows an interactive structure built around sections including biography, the artist’s ten key works, significance & critical issues, style & technique, sources & resources and which institutions hold the artist’s work. The reader is able to click as deeply into each section as they wish, or skip over parts of less interest.

“We were very conscious about not just taking a traditional print book and putting it online,” Sara Angel, the founder and executive director of Art Institute Canada, said in a phone interview.

Future books planned on northern artists

Angel said museums and curators do an excellent job promoting art in Canada, but that the ebooks are an accessible complement designed to appeal to everyone from art lovers wanting to find more out about a favourite artist, teachers looking for something accessible for the classroom or scholars looking for additional sources and resources.

“If you’re a PhD student in Art, we want you to be able to access these books and not feel like you’re being talked down to, but if you’re a high school student you’ll also understand and they’ll be accessible to you too.”

Angel said there are more Arctic artists planned for future titles as well as titles from many other of Canada’s regions.

“At the beginning, people wondered if we were going to have enough people to write about or if we were going to run out. But here we still are. We’re just getting started and we have so much more to do.”

Write to Eilís Quinn at eilis.quinn(at)

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Works by Nunavut, Canada artist Qavavau Manumie featured in Warsaw exhibition, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi-themed Finnish short film makes Sundance lineup, Yle News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson lights up London’s Tate Modern, Blog by Mia bennett

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Arctic culture heritage sites get protection, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway team up to preserve ancient rock carvings, Radio Sweden

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

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project. Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying a culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

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