Inuk artist receives Governor General's award in visual and media arts

·3 min read
Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok has won a Governor General's Award in visual and media arts. From Igloolik, Nunavut, she is now based in Yellowknife.
Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok has won a Governor General's Award in visual and media arts. From Igloolik, Nunavut, she is now based in Yellowknife.

(Canada Council for the Arts - image credit)

Inuk artist Germaine Arnaktauyok has won a Governor General's Award in visual and media arts.

Arnaktauyok is a printmaker, painter and drawer, originally from Igloolik, Nunavut, and now based in Yellowknife.

The Canada Council for the Arts named Arnaktauyok as one of the winners on its Facebook page Tuesday.

Arnaktauyok told CBC when she found out that she would be winning the award about a year ago, she was taken aback.

"I was very surprised because, you know, usually younger people get it ... I'm not young anymore," she said. "I had never thought about it."

Arnaktauyok has been an artist for more than 60 years. She remembers drawing on things such as gum wrappers since she was a child.

"Over the years I just kept going ... I never thought of being an artist. I just did what I know how to do," said Arnaktauyok.

This drawing by artist Germaine Arnaktauyok is titled Mother and Child.
This drawing by artist Germaine Arnaktauyok is titled Mother and Child.

The Royal Canadian Mint chose her silkscreen design, The Drummer, on the toonie to mark the birth of Nunavut in 1999. She's also the subject of My Name Is Arnaktauyok: The Life and Art of Germaine Arnaktauyok, a book that was launched in Yellowknife in 2015.

She grew up in a camp outside of Igoolik with her family, where she would hear stories from her father that influenced her work. Her art depicts ceremonies, customs and legends related to Inuit culture past and present.

"I like doing Inuit legends ... Why should I do landscapes? They are there already. I don't need to do them ... stories that I love to do I would use my imagination. I try to make them pretty accurate as much as possible though."

Many of her themes are also around women's roles and traditions, and have been featured in traditional Inuit tattoos, the council said.

"Arnaktauyok's rich and beautifully coloured drawings depict a kaleidoscope of her heritage, ranging from astronomy to mythology to philosophy of forgotten times," the council's statement said.

'An incredible honour'

The council says The Winnipeg Art Gallery's curator of Inuit art nominated Arnaktauyok for the award.

Sarah Swan, a visual arts commentator and writer based in Yellowknife, said this is the first time a northerner has won the award for visual arts.

"It's an incredible honour and it's inspiring to the younger artists who are coming up underneath of her. I hope she feels just tickled and thrilled because it's one of the most important awards we have in Canada for the visual arts," said Swan.

She said it's important for remote communities to be recognized and seen, and hopes that this award brings more attention to Arnaktauyok's work and to the art coming out of places like Yellowknife and Igoolik.

Swan said the award also highlights the need for a territorial art gallery in the N.W.T.

"It's a garden of talent up here that a lot of people haven't quite seen or realized," said Swan.

The Governor General's Awards in Visual and Media Arts were created in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada. Up to eight awards are distributed every year; each winner receives a medallion and $25,000.