PHOTO ESSAY

Culture Clash

Annie Pootoogook captures Canada’s north-south divide

By David Balzer
June 27, 2006
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Pitseolak Drawing with Two Girls on the Bed. Courtesy Power Plant/Fehely Fine Arts.

Pitseolak Drawing with Two Girls on the Bed

Pitseolak Ashoona, Pootoogook’s grandmother, was a true original. Responsible for some 7,000 drawings and a recipient of the Order of Canada, Pitseolak recorded a key transitional period in the history of her people: the mid-20th-century movement of Inuit from camps to permanent settlements or trading posts.

Pootoogook often cites her grandmother’s influence as integral to her practice. When Pitseolak was bedridden during the last years of her life (she passed away in 1983), Pootoogook and her mother visited her often to watch her work. The experience is depicted in this drawing, which shows Pitseolak in profile (her characteristic thick-rimmed glasses clearly visible) next to her two rapt descendents. Among other things, the picture is a heartfelt symbol of the female tradition in Inuit drawing; Inuit men, for the most part, are associated with sculpting.

In reference to the drawing, Campbell offers the following quote from Pootoogook (whose dealings with southerners are largely facilitated through an Inuktitut/English translator): “I used to go and watch my grandma drawing because I wanted to learn and she was my grandma. Nobody used to watch her. I don’t know why. I wanted to learn so I had to watch her. She used to talk to me and say, ‘I’m drawing because my grandchildren have to eat.’ But she drew a true story, too, about her life. And she used to tell me you should try this when you grow up, if you can.”

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