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

A Modern Migration: Inuit Go South

Inuit are the least urbanized of aboriginal groups – less than 20 percent live in an urban centre – more are now moving to cities, a modern migration that seems inevitable and, some would say, even necessary.

WHEN YOU CONSIDER WHERE RHODA INNUKSUK was born, it seems remarkable that she now lives in a three-bedroom brick house on a leafy street in suburban Ottawa, where her 12-year-old adopted son and his friends are currently holed up in the living room playing Rock Band. A selection of classic-rock staples howls through the kitchen as Innuksuk prepares a pot of coffee. “Forgive the mess,” she says, referring to the boxes piled by the door. She has been sorting through winter clothes in preparation for a trip to Qaiqsut, an ancient hunting camp near Igloolik, Nunavut, where she was born in a tent while her father was out walrus hunting. That was in 1952, sometime in August – her exact birth date is unknown. 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

The Wild Moose Chase

Winding down the Yukon’s Big Salmon River, I discover my inner hunter

SEEING ANIMALS IN THE WILD HAS ALWAYS made me feel better about the world, a reassurance that despite the planet’s ecological woes, there are still patches of wilderness humans haven’t trampled. But standing here watching a moose lazily blink and chew grass, my heart is breaking. My hunting guide, Clayton White, is a few metres ahead, tiptoeing across the hummocky slough with his .300 Winchester Magnum slung over his shoulder like a guitar case. He looks back and motions for me to keep up. There’s a steady drizzle so I’m in full Gore-Tex regalia, probably the noisiest outfit I could’ve chosen. To keep from swishing, I walk slow and exaggerated, like I’m a teenager sneaking past my parents’ bedroom at 2 a.m. As Clayton and I inch closer, the moose periodically pricks up his ears. We freeze. He freezes. Then, when he’s satisfied he’s alone, he resumes chewing. Apparently moose can’t see well, but have bionic skills when it comes to hearing and smelling. Luckily on this cool September afternoon our prey is upwind and, so far, unsuspecting. I secretly hope it somehow hears us and bolts. Though I’ve come to these Yukon wilds to experience my first-ever hunt, I don’t feel ready for what comes next. 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

Blood, Brotherhood and the Knuckle-Hop

At the biennial Arctic Winter Games, the Inuit sports can cause competitors to scream in pain

MINIK RASMUSSEN AND HIS TWIN BROTHER, Pilo, sit side by side at the first-aid station, wincing as the medic applies bags of snow to their bloody knuckles. The Greenlandic brothers – identical right down to their sparse mustaches and tattoos – have just been knuckle-hopping. It’s a traditional Inuit sport that mimics the way seals shuffle across the ice, which, for humans, means bouncing forward on knuckles and toes, straight as a plank, until collapsing in agony. Continue reading

Folk (Rock) Hero

NWT’s music darling Leela Gilday talks about her new album, winning a Juno, and the perks and perils of being an aboriginal artist

ON A COOL NIGHT AT A PUB IN HANOI, VIETNAM, Leela Gilday rekindled an old love. It was jam night at The Labyrinth, a popular tourist bar in the city’s Old Quarter. She knew a pile of people and they all sang and played guitar until 2 a.m. Warmed by the place and the spirit of the night, Gilday decided then that she couldn’t quit playing music. “To my immense relief, I seem to have found my passion again,” she later wrote in her email travelogue. “I do want to be a musician.” Continue reading