Thursday, August 13, 2020

A response to What We Make III: University of Winnipeg Community Art Exhibition


From June 24 - September 24, 2020, Gallery 1C03 is presenting What We Make III, an online exhibition that celebrates the creativity of the University of Winnipeg community. In response to an open call for submissions to current and former University students and staff, Gallery 1C03 received works by 22 artists. The exhibition can be viewed on a special website and we have promoted the work of each of the participants via our facebook and instagram feeds.

In July, University of Manitoba student Alina Bilonozhko wrote an essay responding to the exhibition for Honoure Black's Modern to Contemporary Art class (FAAH 2080). In particular, Bilonozhko shared her interpretation of the acrylic pour painting, Double Overhead, by What We Make III participant, Renée Douville.  

We share Bilonozhko's essay below.

Double Overhead
By Alina Bilonozhko

The University of Winnipeg Gallery 1C03 engages many different communities and presents contemporary artworks through the University's permanent art collection and seasonal art exhibitions.
[1] One such exhibition, What We Make III (June 24 – Sep 24, 2020), collects the works of students and professors and focuses on the creativity of the University of Winnipeg community in an online format.[2] The exhibition includes various forms and mediums, including photography, wool fiber art, metalsmithing, sculpture, drawing, functional art projects, and painting to represent diverse experiences and passions among the community.[3] Renée Douville’s Double Overhead is an acrylic pour painting on canvas that embodies the spirit of life through the biological motifs and stochastic art-making process. 

    Image: Renée Douville, Double Overhead, 2020, acrylic pour painting on canvas, 10” x 10”.

Renée Douville is a professor of Biological Sciences at the University of Winnipeg, studying and doing research in Microbiology and Immunology.[4] Her artistic expression reflects the biological environment and living organisms through abstract creation.[5] “Science embracing creativity ensures we see the world with fresh eyes,” as she describes her work, Double Overhead.[6] The fluid shapes and structures in the painting resemble the formation and movement of cells under a microscope. Loosely and, in some places, densely connected to each other, the cells are forming a layer, strongly reminiscent of a loose connective tissue found around and between most body organs.[7] The function of such tissue is to provide mechanical strength along with physical and metabolic support to all the other types of tissues in the living organism.[8] Randomly formed cells flow unevenly on the canvas, simulating a random direction of fibers in the tissue.[9] The thick dark blue outlines of the cells resemble the collagen fiber bundles interwoven into a “mesh-like network”, while the dark purple dots appear like fibroblast cell nuclei.[10] Through her artwork, the artist symbolizes the elasticity and voluminosity of the cells and tissues, the complex structures of the biological environment, and an organism as a whole. 

Douville’s artwork encapsulates the fluidity of the paints running through the system of interacting colours and creating a whole new world. The dominant colours of white and blue in the acrylic painting Double Overhead interchange within the direction of the flow of the paint. White, which is the main colour in the lower half of the painting, penetrates the dark blue at the top and changes its form into a thick line. The lines become an outline of the abstract cellular shapes, captured in their liquified state. The dark blue, on the other hand, moves from the top half of the painting to the bottom, creating a thin, watery contour. The contrast of the artwork changes significantly, from white and light beige in the lower half to cold blue, green, and purple in the upper half. This contrast creates an effect of transparency as if the painting is a section of the slide examined under a microscope in the bright light.[11] The dark blue and purple strongly appear in the middle sections, resembling the staining process of the slide that enhances visualization of certain cellular components under a microscope.[12] The colours in Douville’s artwork mix together and flow deprived of constraints, creating a spirit of life through the scientific motifs and allowing the viewer to see the world in a new light. 

The flow of the paints creates the effect of movement as if the artwork is breathing and living its own life. To create such an effect, Douville uses the technique of acrylic pour painting, a form of fluid art that first emerged in the 1930s from a Mexican artist named David Alfaro Siqueiros.[13] The painting process is rather accidental and chaotic that fully depends on the spreading and mixing of liquid paints.[14] This technique requires direct pouring of the paints onto the freshly painted flat canvas, resulting in a semi-random process of colour mixture.[15] The artists often use silicon oils or alcohol solutions to create eccentric cellular patterns and forms in their fluid artwork.[16] The use of a butane torch plays a crucial role in pour painting technique which involves directing the heat onto the layer of paint mixed with silicon oils.[17] The heat of the torch creates a chemical reaction that breaks the top layer of the paint and creates a cellular pattern.[18] For pouring techniques and to move the paint in desired directions, the artists use numerous different tools such as palette knives, spatulas, straws, funnels, hair combs, and hairdryers.[19] The physical process of painting becomes the art itself that rejects traditional brush and easel and conveys emotion through abstraction. This semi-random process of creating art in Double Overhead mirrors the semi-random nature of biological systems that creates complexity and order out of a chaotic environment. 

Gallery 1C03 provides an opportunity for the University of Winnipeg community to express their creativity. Through the unconventional act of painting, Renée Douville creates an expressionistic artwork rich with colours and abstract fluid forms. Her acrylic pour painting Double Overhead reflects her passion and devotion to Biological Sciences, creating cellular patterns and structural frameworks of the tissues of the living organisms. The portraiture of the biological environment allows the viewer to look at the art from a different perspective as if they are examining it under the magnifying lens of the microscope, perhaps, through the eyes of the artist.

[1]Gallery 1C03,” accessed July 3, 2020.

[2]What We Make III,” What We Make III | Art Gallery | The University of Winnipeg, accessed July 4, 2020.

[3] Ibid.

[4]Renée Douville,” accessed July 4, 2020.

[5]Renée Douville,” Google Sites, accessed July 2, 2020.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Jane B. Reece et al., Campbell Biology (New York: Pearson Education, 2014), 919.

[8] Reece, Campbell Biology, 919.

[9] Lumen Learning, “Connective Tissue,” Lumen, accessed July 3, 2020.

[10] Ibid.

[11] Reece, Campbell Biology, 904.

[12] Ibid., 905.

[13]The Science Behind Acrylic FlowPainting,” Fluid Art Projects, accessed July 4, 2020.

[14] Ibid.

[15]Learn How to Do Acrylic FlowPainting,” Fluid Art Projects, accessed July 3, 2020.

[16] Olga Soby, “Acrylic Paint PouringSupplies - Complete Guide 2020,” Smart Art Materials, June 29, 2020, accessed July 5, 2020.

[17] Ibid.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.




 “Gallery 1C03.” Accessed July 3, 2020.


Learning, Lumen. “Connective Tissue.” Lumen: Anatomy and Physiology. Accessed July 3, 2020.

Reece, Jane B., Lisa A. Urry, Michael L. Cain, Steven Alexander Wasserman, Peter V. Minorsky, Rob Jackson, and Neil A. Campbell. Campbell Biology. New York: Pearson Education, 2014.

Renée Douville.” Accessed July 4, 2020.

Renée Douville.” Google Sites. Accessed July 2, 2020.

Soby, Olga. “Acrylic Paint Pouring Supplies - Complete Guide 2020.” Smart Art Materials, June 29, 2020. Accessed July 5, 2020.

The Science Behind Acrylic Flow Painting.” Fluid Art Projects. Accessed July 4, 2020.

What We Make III.” What We Make III | Art Gallery | The University of Winnipeg. Accessed July 4, 2020.



Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Video tour of Alootook Ipellie exhibit

Click photo to enlarge

To follow our blog post entries on the Alootook Ipellie exhibition Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, we invite you to watch a short video tour of the show led by Gallery 1C03 Director/Curator Jennifer Gibson on Gallery 1C03’s You Tube playlist.

Link to video tour:

The tour refers back to particular artworks that have been discussed in our blog entries. If this is your first visit to our blog, we encourage you to scroll back and read our previous essays on this important exhibition.

Image: Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, partial exhibit installation view showing several people looking at Ipellie’s comics, political cartoons and drawings. Ipellie’s ink drawing Self-Portrait: Inverse Ten Commandments (1993) is shown front centre. Photo by Karen Asher.

Monday, April 13, 2020

Nuna and Vut

 Click photo to enlarge

The year after he published his collection of drawings and short stories, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, Alootook Ipellie initiated a new comic strip. The curators of his retrospective exhibition, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, summarize this work:
Between 1994 and 1997, Ipellie drew the cartoon strip Nuna and Vut for the Eastern Arctic newspaper Nunatsiaq News. Nuna and Vut follows 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. 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.

As with Ice Box, his first comic strip which was published in Inuit Today from the mid-1970s through early-1980s, Ipellie’s main audience for Nuna and Vut was fellow Inuit living in the North. And, as before, he uses humour as a foil while reflecting upon the political and social issues of the day. His main characters are once again members of a family unit and he draws them as comical caricatures. While the Nook family protagonist of Ice Box had a bowl haircut and buck teeth, the duo of Nuna and Vut are physical opposites. Nuna is short and round (his torso is literally a circle) and Vut is tall and thin (his upper body is a rectangle).

Nuna and Vut find themselves in situations that are simultaneously akin to the slapstick routines of Laurel and Hardy, yet at the same time reflect current affairs. The small sampling of Nuna and Vut cartoons included in Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border show that Ipellie addressed a variety of issues, from climate change – the characters find themselves caught off guard in a treacherous spring break up and flood-like spring run-off – to the emergence of access to the internet in the North – Nuna and Vut try to see if they can find the end of cyber space.

A unique aspect of the Nuna and Vut series is Ipellie’s insertion of himself into the narrative in his role as the cartoonist. In one scene, Ipellie depicts himself observing Nuna and Vut’s actions through binoculars. In another, he draws his self-portrait with the characters clinging to his goatee. His thought bubble reads “Funny how those you helped create seem to cling on to you for the rest of your life and vise versa.” Here, he suggests the interlocking identities of comic strip creator and creations. In a third comic sequence, Vut is shown playing golf. The golf ball bounces against the comic panel’s border and comes back hitting him in the head. The text reads “Vut, yet again, forgets to sign an agreement with the cartoonist to leave out the border-lines…” This thinly veiled reference to the Nunavut land claim agreement negotiations would have certainly enlisted laughs from his readers.

Click photo to enlarge

The comic sequence in the featured image shows one large, wide panel above a series of four smaller, square panels. In the first panel, Nuna and Vut stand on top of a globe of the earth and throw square snowballs at Qallunaat. The Qallunaat blast Nuna and Vut with round snowballs from a cannon. Writing between the two sparring factions reads “When Nuna & Vut have snowball fights against southerners, their methodology is uniquely Eskimo...” Vut says “What extravagance! Must be politicians!” Nuna says “No doubt!” The Qallunaat say “Go Ottawa go! Go Ottawa go!”

In the following four panels, Nuna and Vut have a conversation. Vut stands upside down on the ground and Nuna stands right side up, also on the ground. The dialogue between them reads: “Hey, Vut, you still with us?” “I should be asking you that question!” “But…look at you!” “Me? It’s you – not me!” “Have you gone mad?” “Nope! Not me – you have!” “We live in an up-side down world!” “You’re driving me nuts!”

Both storylines in this sequence suggest a disconnect in terms of perspective, communications and defense strategies. Once again, Ipellie’s visual humour and use of satire could be appreciated by the readers of Nunatsiaq News as Inuit leaders continued their long battle to achieve an acceptable land claims settlement for their people.

Post author: Jennifer Gibson

Sandra Dyck, Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, exhibition section panel, 2018.

Amy Prouty, “Drawing Inuit Satiric Resilience: Alootook Ipellie’s Decolonial Comics,” esse, Number 93 (Spring 2018). Accessed March 21, 2020.

Images: Alootook Ipellie, Nuna and Vut, published in Nunatsiaq News, March 18 and 25 1994, ink on illustration board, Estate of the artist, photo by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy Carleton University Art Gallery; Alootook Ipellie, Nuna and Vut, ink on illustration board, Estate of the artist, These Nuna and Vut comic strips were published in Nunatsiaq News from January 1994 through October 1996, photo by Karen Asher.

Friday, April 10, 2020

The importance of dreams

 Click photo to enlarge

In his landmark 1993 publication, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, Alootook Ipellie presents a collection of twenty pairs of drawings and short stories that blend traditional Inuit ways of knowing with aspects of Qallunaat culture. Ipellie’s stories are communicated to the reader by a shaman protagonist who has been dead a thousand years and looks back upon his life “through the eyes of his living soul." Our last blog post explored Ipellie’s re-appropriation of central tenets of the Christian faith as his shaman narrator successfully battled Satan in the Garden of Nede and was reborn after his own crucifixion at the hands of fellow shamans.

Today, we consider the book title’s drawing and story, “Arctic Dreams and Nightmares.” Here, Ipellie speaks to the negative impacts of colonization while at the same time asserting the continued importance and crucial role of traditional ways of knowing.

 As with other narratives in the collection, “Arctic Dreams and Nightmares” takes several twists and turns. At one point, the shaman narrates two tales. The first is a strange, but seemingly pleasant dream where he finds himself in a Northern paradise. Like a veritable Alice in Wonderland, he drinks water from a special lake that causes him to shrink to the size of an insect. He then wanders about a small patch of tundra in blissful solitude where Arctic bushes are now comparable to an Amazonian jungle filled with beautiful and delicious vegetation that appear to satisfy and sustain him. Here, he thinks, the Qallunaat animal rights activists who berate Inuit hunters won’t bother him.

Click photo to enlarge

The second story is a nightmare where the shaman wakes up in great pain, with blood spurting across his body and face. It appears that an eagle is ripping out of his chest. Once free, the bird flies away as though nothing had happened. He ponders the meaning of this vision and concludes that the eagle had begun its existence in his body as a blood cell that became unhappy because it was only being fed alcohol by its host. “The cell was absolutely tired of being drunk and was now extremely afraid of becoming an alcoholic.” The shaman explains that it was a clever cell that convinced various other cells in his body to join together over two decades in order to become an eagle that could escape. Once these cells had escaped, his body was left to die. Ipellie uses this story to reflect upon the physical effects of drinking on himself and his people as a result of settler-colonialism’s attempts to destroy traditional Inuit culture and society.

While these two stories may seem disconnected, Kimberley McMahon-Coleman has surmised that the magical water the shaman ingested in the dream – which radically altered his perspective and disconnected him from other living beings and previous understandings – could symbolise the foreign (and negative) influences of settler colonialism. In the nightmare, his body seeks to be free from these forces which are again represented as an unfamiliar drink.

Ipellie advocates for the vital significance of dreams as key to Inuit culture and, essentially, to life itself.  He writes:
Dreaming in the Arctic world is not quite like dreaming in other parts of the world. And so it is with nightmares. Perhaps there is something to be said about the mindset of individual cultures. We do have a different outlook on life, don’t we? And this unique outlook has given us the experiences to dream unique dreams.

A world that encompasses no dreamers is a world of chaos. And so a human dreamer, as he dreams, lives a little more humanely. And had he not been able to dream, he would not be very different from a wild animal.

In their efforts to evangelize Inuit, however, Christian missionaries condemned traditional beliefs and practices, including the magnitude ascribed to dreams and the customs around their re-telling. Inuit were actively discouraged from thinking about or discussing their dreams with others, thus suppressing the sharing of traditional knowledge and understandings across generations. In his introduction to Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, Ipellie describes settler-colonialism’s attempts to destroy so many aspects of traditional Inuit ways of life as “cultural genocide.”  Yet, the publication of Ipellie’s book asserts that Inuit have not stopped dreaming and telling their stories, and that they will continue to do so.

Post author: Jennifer Gibson

Guy Bordin, “Dream Narration among Eastern Arctic Canadian Inuit,” in B. Collignon & M. Therrien, Orality in the 21st century: Inuit discourse and practices. Proceedings of the 15th Inuit Studies Conference (Paris: INALCO, 2009). Accessed April 10, 2020.

Sandra Dyck, Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, exhibition section panel, 2018.

Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1993).

Kimberley McMahon-Coleman, "Dreaming An Identity between Two Cultures: The Works of Alootook Ipellie," Kunapipi (Volume 28, Issue 1, Article 12), 2006. Accessed March 21, 2020.

Kimberley, McMahon-Coleman, Indigenous diasporic literature: representations of the Shaman in the works of Sam Watson and Alootook Ipellie, PhD thesis, Faculty of Arts, University of Wollongong, 2009. Accessed April 5, 2020.

Images: Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993), ink on illustration board, collection of Charles R.J. Gardner, photo by Karen Asher.

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Alootook Ipellie in CV2 Magazine

Today we pause our thrice weekly blog posts that examine specific portions of Alootook Ipellie's retrospective exhibition, Walking Both Sides of An Invisible Border, for an exciting announcement. 

Contemporary Verse 2: The Canadian Journal of Poetry and Critical Writing has launched its Spring 2020 issue and Ipellie's drawing, "The Death of Nomadic Life, The Creeping Emergence of Civilization," is on the cover!

Not only that. You will find two additional drawings by Ipellie inside the volume as well as two of the five poems from his exhibition: "It Was Not 'Jajai-ja-jiijaaa' Anymore, But 'Amen'" (1997) and "Anaanaak" (2003).

See for yourself by ordering your copy of CV2 Magazine today on their website. It will be a fantastic read and you'll be supporting artists, poets and a non-profit arts organization all at the same time. It's support that is direly needed during the current challenging time.

Monday, April 6, 2020

Arctic Dreams and Nightmares

 Click photo to enlarge

Another highlight of the touring exhibition Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border is the inclusion of seven drawings from Ipellie’s seminal publication Arctic Dreams and Nightmares. Exhibition curators Sandra Dyck, Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde provide context for this important volume:

The first book of collected short fiction by an Inuk writer published in Canada, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993) is one of Alootook Ipellie’s most significant achievements. The drawings came first, the stories later. He wrote a story to accompany each of the twenty drawings in the book over an intense three-month period. “They were pretty much writing themselves,” he later recalled. The stories were inspired by his own dreams and nightmares, his daily life and his “ancestors’ extraordinary gift for inventing myths, stories and legends.”

The book is narrated by an Inuk shaman who has been dead for a thousand years and now looks back on his life “through the eyes of his living soul.” Freed from the constraints of the body, time and space, the shaman roams everyday and otherworldly realms. His adventures are recounted by Ipellie in fantastical (and often sexual) tales that intermingle pop culture, Christianity, current events, and Inuit and Western stories. Shakespeare, Sattaanassee, Brigitte Bardot, Sedna and Super Stud all make appearances. There’s no book like it. 

While much of Ipellie’s early work was geared primarily to an Inuit audience, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares was created with both Inuit and Qallunaat readers and viewers in mind. The book opens with an autobiographical essay that introduces the circumstances into which Ipellie was born, grew up and proceeded into his career as a writer and artist. Through his introduction, Ipellie is forthright about the devastating impacts that colonization has had on him and his people.

The stories and drawings also draw attention to and, importantly, subvert these impacts. In an interview with Michael Kennedy, for example, Ipellie explains how his drawing and story “After Brigitte Bardot” speak back to the negative effect that anti-seal hunting protests made by non-Indigenous celebrities had on Inuit: “I wanted to tell her what we thought about what she did to our people.”

Click photo to enlarge

The drawing on the book’s cover, Self-Portrait: Inverse Ten Commandments, is one of many in the volume that critiques the introduction of Christianity to Inuit by overturning its concepts, symbols and narratives. Kimberley McMahon-Coleman notes that since Ipellie’s stories are based on dreams and written from the point of view of a shaman, they represent traditional Inuit ways of knowing. She asserts that his incorporation of Christian tropes into his collection “emphasizes the possibility of co-existence between the two belief systems, albeit with Christianity in the minor role.” Ipellie, further, explained to Kennedy that he comes from a family of shamans on his mother’s side:

I think it was that sense of having had the family heredity of shamanism that I wanted to have the shaman in the book. Having heard stories about shamans from my own family, from the community in Iqaluit, it is a very large passion for me and I tried to keep that passion when I was writing the book to keep that spirit alive.

Click photo to enlarge

In  the story "Self-Portrait: Inverse Ten Commandments", the shaman narrator confronts a vision of his own devilish face (which indeed looks a lot like Ipellie’s) and hands that are alive with tiny screaming faces on each of his fingertips. He realizes that he has arrived at Hell’s Garden of Nede (anagram of Eden) and that the tiny faces represent the inverse ten commandments, shouting “Thou Shalt” instead of “Thou Shalt Not.” As the vision welcomes and then grabs hold of him, the tiny faces slurp his hands with their razor-sharp tongues. He recalls that the Church’s teachings – namely, that if one maintained a “good-humoured personality to all mankind,” one would be guaranteed a place in Christian heaven – are untrue. He decides that the only way to break free is to knee the Satanic vision in the groin. The image disappears and all returns to normal. He then concludes that his soul had successfully travelled through the cosmos by visiting and then ridding himself of his dark side. As McMahon-Coleman notes, the shaman narrator “has saved himself without the agency of the Church or its ministry.” In doing so, he has proven himself a powerful shaman.

Click photo to enlarge

A second story in Arctic Dreams and Nightmares Indigenizes Christianity’s main narrative. In I, Crucified the shaman travels through time and space to find himself bound to a whalebone cross and pinned in place by arrows and a harpoon as tundra wolves snarl at his feet. He discovers that his crucifixion is due to the jealousy of other shamans who are unable to successfully compete against him. They trap him using his own ego and desire for additional power as bait. He is then forced to wait a thousand years until he is reborn as the contemporary narrator of Ipellie’s stories. McMahon-Coleman notes that through I, Crucified, Ipellie “implies that Christ was one of many shamans the world has seen, and that the article of belief central to Christianity – that of Christ’s resurrection – can be explained through the traditional Inuit belief in reincarnation.” In this way, the writer “critiques the efforts of missionaries to eradicate traditional beliefs in favour of their own.”

Post author: Jennifer Gibson

Sandra Dyck, Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, exhibition section panel, 2018.

Alootook Ipellie, Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (Penticton, BC: Theytus Books, 1993).

Michael P. J. Kennedy, “Alootook Ipellie: The Voice of an Inuk Artist,” Studies in Canadian Literature (Volume 21, Number 2), 1996. Accessed March 21, 2020.

Michael P. J. Kennedy, “Southern Exposure: Belated Recognition of a Significant Inuk Writer-Artist,” Canadian Journal of Native Studies, Volume 15, Number 2 (1995). Accessed March 21, 2020.

Kimberley McMahon-Coleman, "Dreaming An Identity between Two Cultures: The Works of Alootook Ipellie," Kunapipi (Volume 28, Issue 1, Article 12), 2006.

Images: Alootook Ipellie, Cover of Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, published by Theytus Books, 1993, photo by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy Carleton University Art Gallery; Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, partial installation views showing Self-Portrait: Inverse Ten Commandments (1993), ink on illustration board, private collection, photos by Karen Asher; Alootook Ipellie, I, Crucified (1993), ink on illustration board, courtesy Ad Astra Comix.  

Friday, April 3, 2020

The Half-Fish

Click photo to enlarge

At the time of his collaboration on his first book Paper Stays Put: A Collection of Inuit Writing, edited by Robin Gedalof and published in 1980, Alootook Ipellie had already established his own distinct style of drawing. While working at Inuit Monthly as a translator, writer, creator of the comic strip Ice Box, designer, photographer and editor, he illustrated and contributed written pieces (including poetry and a story) to the anthology. The curators of the exhibition Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border write: 

[Paper Stays Put] reflects the complexity and range of the “subjects and styles adopted by Inuit writers,” as Gedalof wrote in the introduction [...] Like his magazine work, Ipellie’s illustrations for Paper Stays Put are precise drawings in black ink that bear witness to his steady hand, confident lines and rich patterns” (Dyck, et al. 7)

The touring exhibition Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border features five of the illustrations from Paper Stays Put. A viewer familiar with the figure of Nuliajuk, the spirit of the sea, might be captivated by one of these drawings, The Half-Fish. Elder Peter Irniq calls Nuliajuk, “Uinigumasuittuq”, which translates to “one that never wanted to marry” because, in traditional versions of her story, Nuliajuk refuses her father’s orders to choose a partner and instead has babies with a dog. On a kayak trip, her angry father throws her into the sea and when she clings to the side of the kayak, he chops off her fingers. Her fingers become sea mammals. She sinks to the bottom where she now lives, guarded by a dog.

This representation of the story of Nuliajuk (or Sedna, as she is also known) feels both familiar and uncanny, terrifying and inviting. The viewer of the image is privy to quite the scene; a hunter prods the sea spirit who stares at the viewer, sporting an expression of surprise. Harpooning or “catching” Nuliajuk ensures that she will release the sea mammals so that the people may be fed (Oosten 484).

Ipellie’s illustration accompanies a story by a Povungnituk carver, contributed to the anthology by Taivitialuk Alaasuaq. This story “attempts to reconcile the old beliefs with the technology brought North by the white traders” (Gedalof 94). In this version, Nuliajuk is stuck on the shore and is spotted by a hunter. She asks the hunter to help her without touching her, inviting him to instead use the wood he’s harvesting to push her back into the sea. In exchange for this favour, she will reward him. After a lot of effort, the hunter manages to push her back into the water and returns the next day for his reward. The reward comes in the form of a gramophone, sewing machine and gun.

Click photo to enlarge

Ipellie also has his own version of the story in his book Arctic Dreams and Nightmares, published in 1993. His story, titled “Summit with Sedna, Mother of Sea Beasts”, tells of a sexually frustrated Sedna. The shamans meet up and conjure a plan to give her a dream that would satisfy her. The dream ends up featuring the worthy match she never found. While the story featured in Paper Stays Put highlights a tension of the time around technology, this version is more interested in themes of sexuality and gender. Contemporary adaptations like this one ensure and emphasize the enduring relevance of traditional stories.

It is also worth noting that in both of Ipellie’s illustrations of Nuliajuk, she is given the same characteristics; there are, however, some differences. These differences are likely due to her role in both of these stories. In The Half-Fish, she is more of a sympathetic figure in need of assistance, who then bestows gifts to the people. Ipellie shows her with a tail, webbed hands and a braid. In “Summit with Sedna,” she is portrayed as the antagonist, as a villain who must be appeased. The accompanying illustration depicts Sedna with more grotesque facial features, her breasts prominent, webbed hands with eyes on them. In both drawings, Sedna is given braids, indicating that she has had her hair combed (one of the roles of the shaman is to make a journey to the bottom of the sea to comb and braid her hair), and thus has been placated.  

Click photo to enlarge

Representations of Nuliajuk, or Sedna, vary greatly between having the appearance of a sea mammal or that of a mermaid. While some Inuit artists may agree that she is something like a mermaid, others disagree, noting that the figure of the mermaid might have been imported by European mythologies. Instead, they emphasize her role as a creator, as spirit. Either way, her depictions are marked by transformation; in all iterations, her fingers, once chopped off, become sea mammals, and she is often seen with fins or a tail. In Inuit cosmologies, the ability to transform is evidence of the non-rigidity of categories of human/animal, or natural/supernatural (Florence 34-5): “Thus the sea beings represent a timeless and non-social world where the distinction between human beings and animal has collapsed” (Oosten 492).  

Post author: Marie-Anne Redhead

Dyck, Sandra, Heather Igloliorte and Christine Lalonde. Exhibition section panel. Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, 2018.

Gedalof, Robyn and Alootook Ipellie. Paper Stays Put: A Collection of Inuit Writing. Hurtig, 1980.

Irniq, Peter. “The Story of Nuliajuk.” Canadian Museum of History website (The Canadian History Hall, Origins). Accessed 1 April 2020.

McCall, Sophie, et al., editors. Read, Listen, Tell: Indigenous Stories from Turtle Island. Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2017.

Oosten, Jarich, and Laugrand Frédéric. “Representing the ‘Sea Woman’.” Religion and the Arts, vol. 13, no. 4, 2009, pp. 477–495.

Further reading:
Nuliajuk’s Story, Winnipeg Art Gallery.

The Legend of Nuliajuk (Audio Only, English).” Youtube, uploaded by Taqqut Productions, 11 March 2016.

First image: Alootook Ipellie, Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border, partial installation view. Photo: Karen Asher. Artworks in image, left to right, top to bottom (all by Alootook Ipellie and all ink on paper illustrations published in Paper Stays Put: A Collection of Inuit Writing): Survival in the South by Minnie Aodla Freeman (1980), collection of Annalise and Kur Biedermann, Thayngen, Switzerland; The Half-Fish by Taivitialuk Alaasuaq, collection of E. Gedalof and S. Davies; So You Want to Kill an Eskimo by Anthony Apakark Thrasher, collection of Lynn Jamieson and the late Geoffrey S. Lester; I Make My Living by Carving by Marius Kavotak, collection of Marjorie and Michael P. Kennedy, Vanscoy, Saskatchewan; Ululigarqnaarq by an anonymous author, collection of E. Gedalof and S. Davies.

Second image: Alootook Ipellie, Illustration for The Half-Fish by Taivitialuk Alaasuaq, published in Paper Stays Put: A Collection of Inuit Writing (1980), ink on paper, collection of E. Gedalof and S. Davies; Photo by Justin Wonnacott, courtesy of Carleton University Art Gallery.

Third image: Alootook Ipellie, Illustration for Summit with Sedna, Mother of Sea Beasts, published in Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993), ink on paper; Photo from "Alootook Ipellie: Artist, Writer, Dreamer!", April 11, 2013, Zócalo Poets. Accessed April 3, 2020.