Two Inuit carvers from Nunavut are living out their dream, working on a 26-tonne block of granite to create a traditional sculpture, which will be housed at Toronto's York University.

"When it first came here, I thought I felt like I was dreaming," said Cape Dorset's Kuzy Curley, one of the two artists working on the piece. "I've been wanting to do a monument this big since I first started carving as a young boy."

The team is collaborating on a 26-tonne block of granite to depict an Inuit legend about spirits playing soccer with a walrus skull. The design, called "Ahqahizu," was chosen to coincide with the Pan Am and Parapan Am Games, which recently took place at the university.

"Sometimes when I go up against it, it's like: 'What did I get myself into?'" said Pond Inlet's Ruben Komangapik, the other artist working on the sculpture.

Carving the sculpture, said Curley, has been a learning experience, because usually he only works on small pieces and rarely works with a material as tough as granite.  

Modern methods, traditional themes

Kuzy Curley & Ruben Komangapik

Kuzy Curley of Cape Dorset and Ruben Komangapik of Pond Inlet are working on a monumental sculpture at Toronto's York University. 'When I first came here, I thought I felt like I was dreaming,' Curley says. 'I’ve been wanting to do a monument this big since I first started carving as a young boy.' (Tina Mackenzie/CBC)

"The methods have not always been traditional, but the content is traditional," said Komangapik who adds that his work often draws inspiration from traditional Inuit themes.

For the two artists the piece is a chance to not only showcase their art but also their Inuit culture.

"We want people to understand who we are and where we come from," says Curley, "It's very isolated area that we grew up in, there's no highways, you can only go there by planes."

"By doing something at this scale I hope it really inspires everybody else to look more into our culture and learn," adds Komangapik.

Komangapik says he's glad the piece will be situated in a university.

"There are more aboriginal people getting educated to a higher level and hopefully by seeing this it'll inspire them to keep going in their studies."

As part of the project, Curley and Komangapik are mentoring young students from the Jane and Finch community adjacent to York University. The high school students not only get to learn the basics of carving but they get to be exposed to Inuit culture.

"The whole world needs to learn about Inuit and for that we have chosen these people from the South so they can do work down the road and have knowledge of Inuit culture and heritage," says Curley.

Curley admits that working with students on such a big project was not easy.

"As Inuit carvers we do not draw, and for this piece it was little bit challenging for us to teach people that have so little experience in carving."

'Reattaching that voice'

The sculpture was funded as part of the Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage project, an initiative with a goal to give Inuit artists a voice.

"We're all collaborating together in a variety of projects around these objectives of access, connection and creation to bring the Inuit voice out and back to the objects that we are familiar with" says Anna Hudson, an associate professor at York University who leads the Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage project.

She says the voice of Inuit artists is often disassociated with their work in the South — work that lives in private collections or in museums.

"It's reattaching that voice and then creating opportunities where there is greater interaction and more knowledge and awareness of Inuit art as a vital presentation of Inuit culture, and a very important economic driver for the Northern territories and communities."

The sculpture is expected to be completed in the fall. The hope is that it will not only teach people in the South about Inuit art, but also create a bigger market for Northern artists.