Determined curators piece together Inuk artist's oeuvre

Two art shows that took more than a little sleuthing to put together are now on display at the Carleton University Art Gallery and an Elgin Street pub.

Alootook Ipellie was a well-known Inuk artist who lived in Ottawa until his death in 2007

This 2007 ink drawing by Alootook Ipellie is called The Death of Nomadic Life, the Creeping Emergence of Civilization. (Justin Wonnacott)

Two art shows that took more than a little sleuthing to put together are now on display at the Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG) and an Elgin Street pub.

Alootook Ipellie was a well-known Inuk artist, poet and journalist whose artworks were mostly bought by private individuals, not galleries or institutions, making them difficult to track down.

For the past two years, CUAG has worked to find the pieces that make up its new exhibition Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, which opened earlier this month and will remain on display until Dec. 9. Admission is free.

"It was an exciting challenge. It was a mixture of ultimate networking and detective work," said the gallery's director, Sandra Dyck, on CBC Radio's All In A Day. Dyck curated the exhibit alongside Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde.

Carleton University Art Gallery director Sandra Dyck, left, and Inuk filmmaker Mosha Folger talked about Ipellie's work on CBC Radio's All In A Day last week.

Ipellie worked in many mediums, and also wrote articles and essays. This is the first retrospective of his work, according to CUAG.

Dyck said that so far, the response to the exhibit has been positive.

"[People] were overwhelmed by the impact of seeing it all together," she said. "It's quite amazing to see all of his work assembled ... in one place. It covers his work from the early '70s right up until he died."

Ipellie was born in Nuvuqquq on Baffin Island in 1951 and grew up in Iqaluit before moving to Ottawa as a young man. He died in Ottawa in 2007.

Mosha Folger, an Inuk filmmaker who lives in Ottawa, said he has always been inspired by Ipellie's work.  

"I feel like [he's] kind of a kindred spirit. He's Inuk, he is from my hometown and he moved to Ottawa," Folger told All In A Day.

The title of the exhibit, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, comes from one of Ipellie's poems, and Folger said he understands the challenge the poem speaks to about being planted in two communities.

"It is tough to be on one side or the other, because you don't really fit on one side or the other," Folger said.

In addition to the Ipellie retrospective at CUAG, a collection of his original drawings opened Sunday at The Manx Pub on Elgin Street. The exhibit focuses on the comic strip Nuna and Vut, which Ipellie drew for the east Arctic newspaper Nunatsiaq News between 1994 and 1997.

The "Nuna and Vut" comic strip by Alootook Ipellie from 1994. The medium is ink on illustration board. (submitted)

The comic strip followed "the antics and adventures of two Inuit brothers in the years preceding the signing of the Nunavut Land Claims Agreement, which led to the creation of the territory in 1999," according to a description of the exhibit on CUAG's website.

"During this period, Nunatsiaq News covered the political debates between the North and the South regarding the formation of Nunavut and the separation from the Northwest Territories, including the drawing of boundaries and the division of land and resources. Ipellie's lighthearted series contributed fresh perspectives to those debates."

The Manx exhibit will remain on display until Nov. 4. Admission is free.

The Manx has shown some of Ipellie's works in the past, first in 1993 for the release of a book of drawings, and then in 2007 for a memorial in his honour.

With files from CBC Radio's All In A Day