The Rise and Fall of Annie Pootoogook

She shot to fame, then vanished just as quickly. What happened to Nunavut’s greatest modern artist ?

MY SEARCH FOR ANNIE POOTOOGOOK begins at Feheley Fine Arts, an elegant red-brick gallery in downtown Toronto that deals in high-end Inuit art. The owner, Patricia Feheley, is a veteran in this business. Slight and stylish, she has the refined air you’d expect of a gallery owner. She became one of Pootoogook’s most fervent champions as soon as she laid eyes on the artist’s ink-and-crayon drawings in Cape Dorset more than a decade ago. She recalls going “absolutely crazy” for them: “It was the base honesty. She was drawing exactly what she wanted; she didn’t care what other people were doing.” The images offered a blunt, sometimes jarring, portrayal of modern life in an Arctic settlement: Ski-Doos and Coleman stoves, TV and sex, alcohol and domestic abuse. The style was fresh, uninhibited, modern. There were no dancing bears; none of the trite themes that the Inuit art industry has long relied on. Giddy with her discovery, Feheley left Cape Dorset with half-a-dozen of Pootoogook’s drawings, which she showed in an exhibition called “The Unexpected.” The pictures were a hit and all of them sold. Over the next few years, Pootoogook’s work would catch the eye of the contemporary art world and rocket the young artist to fame. Continue reading

Artcirq: An Arctic Circus

Why a Francophone circus performer moved to Igloolik, Nunavut to build a troupe at the top of the world

IGLOOLIK’S COMMUNITY POOL IS A CONCRETE PIT littered with lumber scraps and a peculiar number of legless foosball tables. It has the chilled air of a cellar and the oppressive lights of a prison. It also happens to be the only place for circus practice. The instructor is 36-year-old Guillaume Saladin, a francophone acrobat who is flitting around the pool with the haste of someone unprepared for guests. Still in his coat, he kicks aside rubble to make room for a few battered gym-mats. Continue reading

Fort Chipewyan’s Strange Sickness

Downriver from northern Alberta’s oilsands, the people of Fort Chipewyan have been taking ill and dying. The province says nothing’s wrong. The community’s residents beg to differ.

THE CATHOLIC CEMETERY IN FORT CHIPEWYAN, Alberta is not grand or granite-studded, but it is getting full. Steve Courtoreille tells me this on a cold April morning as he leads me through the picket-fenced plots in search of his nephew’s grave, which isn’t immediately apparent after the previous night’s snowstorm. “It used to be that we buried our old people,” he says, “but now we’re burying the young.” We stop at an unvarnished wooden cross hung with fake-flower wreaths. Pressed into the wood, a gold plaque reads: “Grant Sterling Remi Courtoreille: Only the good die young.” Continue reading