Cape Dorset artist gets prestigious invitation to German art show

Inuit visual artist Annie Pootoogook has been invited to exhibit at the Documenta art show next summer in Kassel, Germany.

Inuit visual artist Annie Pootoogook has been invited to exhibit at the Documenta art show next summer in Kassel, Germany.

Documenta, one of the most prestigious invitational contemporary art shows in the world,takes place every five years.

Pootoogook is the first Inuit visual artist to be invited. Zacharias Kunuk's docu-drama series, Nunavut (Our Land) showed at Documenta 11 in 2002.

Pootoogook's colourful drawings are honest accounts of life in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

Her drawings capture a shifting culture, where old customs still survive, but people are surrounded by southern goods, technology and media.

Modern depictions of whale hunting are hung alongside drawings of kids playing video games.

Although both her mother and grandmother were artists, Pootoogook has been creating images for only about nine years.

Family tradition

"Annie sees herself as definitely like her grandmother in that she's talking about day-to-day life, but she is also very clear that she only talks about the life that she has lived — she cannot talk about anything before her own experience," Pat Feheley, owner of the Feheley Fine Arts, the galleryin Torontothat represents her, said in an interview with CBC Radio.

Her grandmother, Pitseolak Ashoona, was a giant of Inuit art and turned out 7,000 drawings during her career.

"Pitseolak … was also a storyteller and what she told of was her childhood — of women and the women's role … migration and taking care of children and skins," Feheley said.

Pitseolak's daughter and Pootoogook's mother, Napachie, a printmaker, brought a new, darker aspect of traditional life to the fore.

"In the last 10 years of her life she did an absolutely extraordinary series of drawings where she talked about the darker side of traditional life and, in fact, did speak about things like spousal abuse," Feheley said.

"Her mother Pitseolak, in fact, being beaten by her father … and these were stunning drawings with text on them. Napachie really broke a barrier because she was an elder when she did this."

Free style

While her depictions of daily life are reminiscent of her grandmother's, Pootoogook inherited her mother's freedom of expression and followed her in a loosening of the kind of subject matter she depicts, Feheley said.

Born in 1969, in Cape Dorset, Baffin Island, Pootoogook has been working through West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative in Cape Dorset.

She had a major show at the Power Plant in Toronto earlier this year.

Pootoogook is also on the shortlist for the Sobey Award, a major Canadian visual arts prize. The winner will be announced next Tuesday in Montreal.

The Documenta 12 show will run from June 16 to Sept. 23 of next year in Germany.