Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook found dead in Ottawa

Prominent Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook has been identified as the woman whose body was found in Ottawa's Rideau River earlier this week.

Police seek public's help retracing movements leading up to her death

Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook, of Cape Dorset, Nunavut, is seen here in a still from a 2005 documentary. She was found dead on Sept. 19 in Ottawa. (CBC)

Prominent Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook has been identified as the woman whose body was found in Ottawa's Rideau River earlier this week.

Officials with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in her hometown, Cape Dorset, Nunavut, confirmed the death of the chalk-and-ink artist, who rose to prominence when she won the Sobey Award in 2006.

Pootoogook, 47, had been living in Ottawa. 

Her drawings offered a contemporary take on her culture, where old customs intermingled with modern technology and goods.

Her work is part of the collections at the National Gallery of Canada and the Art Gallery of Ontario and was recently part of an exhibition on Indigenous pop art at Ottawa's Saw Gallery.

"Her inclusion in the exhibition was a no-brainer, in that she looked at contemporary life in a way no other artist had ever done," said Saw Gallery curator Jason St-Laurent, who first met Pootoogook five years ago.

Fine Liner Eyebrow one of Pootoogook's drawings on display at the National Gallery of Canada. (Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)

'Revolutionary' impact

Pootoogook was from an artistic family. Her parents, Napachie and Eegyvudlu Pootoogook, and her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona were all artists.

It was "like the artistic lives were already aimed to be passed on to Annie," said Jimmy Manning, the president of the Inuit Art Foundation, in Inuktitut. 

Saw Gallery curator Jason St-Laurent, standing in front of one of Annie Pootoogook's drawings, said the artist was a "shining light" to those who knew her. (CBC News)

"As soon as she started sketching [when she was a child] you knew her art was going to go somewhere."

"Her impact was revolutionary and it's no surprise she had international acclaim for her work," he said.

St-Laurent described Pootoogook as a free spirit who lived life on her own terms. He said he lost touch with her a few months ago, but said she was always welcome at the gallery.

"When she came into Saw, she was a shining light, and made everyone laugh… she was the kindest soul you could ever meet. If you talk to anyone who has met Annie Pootoogook, they'll never forget her," he said.

AGO Canadian art curator Andrew Hunter said in a statement Pootoogook would "be deeply missed."

"She was a profoundly influential artist who had the courage to push the boundaries of Inuit art, capturing in her work challenging and even troubling themes that reflected the reality of contemporary life for women in the North. Her work has had a remarkable impact not only on Inuit art, but on contemporary Canadian art as well."

Major crimes unit investigating

Ottawa police say they are not treating it as a homicide, but the major crimes unit is investigating. Police are hoping to get the public's help in retracing her steps leading up to the discovery of her body on Sept. 19.

A city worker called 911 just before 9 a.m. ET Monday after seeing a body in the river near Bordeleau Park, which sits off King Edward Avenue, Cathcart and Bruyère streets in the Lowertown neighbourhood.

Anyone who saw Pootoogook in the days leading up to Sept. 19 is asked to contact the major crimes unit at 613-236-1222 ext. 5493.

Anonymous tips can be submitted by calling Crime Stoppers toll-free at 1-800-222-8477 (TIPS), or by downloading the Ottawa Police Service app.

Pootoogook made this drawing following her visit with former governor general Michaelle Jean when an exhibition opened at the National Gallery in 2009. (Annie Pootoogook/National Gallery of Canada/Dorset Fine Arts)