PHOTO ESSAY

Culture Clash

Annie Pootoogook captures Canada’s north-south divide

By David Balzer
June 27, 2006
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Bra. Courtesy Power Plant/Fehely Fine Arts.

Bra

Pootoogook’s drawing of her red bra, replete with a tag betraying her size, may, like Woman at her Mirror, Playboy Pose, aspire to cheekiness. It may also, according to Campbell, have resulted guilelessly from a fairly common exercise at the West Baffin Co-op that encourages beginner artists to isolate and draw objects in their lives. (Other Pootoogook drawings, including one of Pitseolak’s glasses, have similar origins.)

It’s not surprising that an urban art crowd might find such pieces appealing — drawing is a hot commodity on the international circuit, and the more unstudied or outré it seems, the better. One wonders if Pootoogook’s current success – she has been nominated for a 2006 Sobey Award and recently completed the Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Programme in Dufftown, Scotland – has anything to do with a perception of her as an outsider artist, an often cynical and exploitative designation that could belittle the legitimacy of her talent.

Campbell is aware of Pootoogook’s potential for outsider notoriety; Pootoogook is, after all, so geographically removed from the rest of the world as to be an outsider by default. But Campbell sees things differently. “I’m not trying to make this work outsider or capitalize on that,” she says. “When I saw these drawings, I knew they belonged at the Power Plant: they’re Canadian and contemporary, compelling and thoughtful. I never once thought, ‘This is so bizarre.’ Annie’s work is not naive, purposely or otherwise. It is what it is, and it happens to be great.”

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