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Inuit Art is Hard Work and Fuelled by Their Philosophy

Sep 16, 2008
The art of the Inuit, Native Americans of Canada and Alaska, reflects their deep connection the earth and sea. The Inuit have the traditional Native American deep reverence for the earth and nature and are among the world's oldest line of true "environmentalists". The Inuit are also pragmatists: they generally have not been taking man-made global warming or "Big Oil" alarmism seriously.

The Inuit philosophy is that change is constant in nature, and they feel they have benefited by leasing their land to companies such as Exxon-Mobile. What this all comes down to is that the art of the Inuit is deeply reflective of their traditional environmentalism and their pragmatism, out of which comes their very earthy and shaman-based spirituality.

The Kitikmeot Region in the Central Arctic is one of three regions in Nunavut which is Canada's newest territory and which is where some of the most highly prized Inuit art is made and can be found. There are nearly 5000 people living in the Kitikmeot region, and they are organized in seven hamlets: Bathurst Inlet, Cambridge Bay, Gjoa Haven, Kugaaruk, Kugluktuk, Taloyoak, and Omingmaktok.

In the eastern part of Canada, the Inuit usually use the available material of their liking, which is dark serpentine stone. In keeping with their reverence for the earth, the Inuit love to carve works of art out of stone, for stone is the foundation of the whole world in spiritual terms. It is strong and fixed, lending itself to constancy and security and protection, unlike the fluidity and constant change found in the waters, the seas.

But this is important because in Kitikmeot, the dark serpentine stone is not to be found. Instead, the Inuit artists here use dolomite, a white stone. This art is highly prized for it is exceedingly difficult to find in the open marketplace.

Out of this white stone, the Inuit of the Kitikmeot carve igloos with removable lids and detailed scenes on their inner walls; dioramas, dolls, and birds from musk ox horn; and very realistically carved animals of their world such as polar bears, which are sometimes also deliberately styled to show forth the Inuit belief that the supernatural is embedded in the natural.

It should be kept in mind that the Inuit artists must travel far and wide over cold, difficult terrain much of the time to find a suitable piece of material from which they will carve a work of art. To them, this quest for the right piece of material is all part of the creative process and it's taken as seriously as the carving itself. They try to listen to an inner voice that guides them to just the right area and then helps them to pick just the right piece of stone with which to work.

When the piece of stone is brought back to their home to work on, the story of their journey to find that stone often gets encoded into the art with special markings, or the overall shape and proportion that the work takes on. The Inuit try to draw forth the spiritual from the material at every turn.
About the Author
Rodney Dagan invites you to explore the culture and arts of the Inuit, you can also find more about arts, crafts and culture from native and aboriginal peoples from around the world at Native Art World
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