Janet Nungnik: The Eagle’s Shadow
Image: Janet Nungnik, One Fine Day, 2007
Saturday, March 30, 1:00 until 3:00 pm.
exhibition dates: March 30 – April 27, 2019
The Marion Scott Gallery is pleased to announce a major exhibition of works by Baker Lake’s Janet Nungnik. Opening March 30 and continuing through April 27, Janet Nungnik: The Eagle’s Shadow brings together 15 colourful textile works produced over a 17-year period. Collectively, Janet Nungnik’s delicately embroidered and appliquéd images tell her life story and that of her people, the Padlermiut, a small group of inland dwelling Inuit whose traditional territory was based to the south of Baker Lake, Nunavut. The exhibition includes the title work, a monumentally scaled wallhanging based on the artist’s childhood memory of close family members. An opening reception for the artist will be held in the gallery on Saturday March 30 from 1:00 until 3:00 pm.
“Janet Nungnik’s work belongs to a rich tradition of contemporary northern textile artistry, bringing a new and exciting sensibility to this classic form,” says MSG director Robert Kardosh. “This show has been more than 15 years in the making, with another 30 years of experience behind that. It is an event of first importance for Janet Nungnik, for Inuit art, and for Canadian art.”
Janet Arjaut Anowtalik Nungnik was born in 1954 at a small camp west of Hudson Bay in what used to be known as the Barrenlands. A member of both the Padlermiutand Ihalmiut, two closely related groups of inland dwelling Inuit, Nungnik grew up learning about the traditions and practices of her people. For the first several years of her life, she believed that her immediate family members were the only people in existence. She remembers the famine of the late 1950s, when the caribou herds upon which her people depended changed their migratory routes, leaving the region’s inhabitants without a food source. When she was 6 or 7, white administrators from southern Canada arrived by plane to take her away for residential schooling. Unwilling to be separated from his children, Nungnik’s father moved the entire family to the growing settlement of Baker Lake, where Janet and her siblings could attend school without being removed from their family. Nungnik later travelled to Churchill and Yellowknife for further education. In the early 1970s, she began making wallhangings, learning her craft by watching the legendary Baker Lake textile artist Jessie Oonark at work.
The works in the exhibition picture a range of experiences and memories. Some portray members of Nungnik’s family performing everyday tasks. One Fine Day, a work from 2004, presents an image of people fashioning rope from caribou hide. A large white blanket with Hudson’s Bay Company stripes appears in the bottom right, signalling the presence of external trade objects in this otherwise traditional scene. The same motif also appears in Northern Lights (Inside the Iglu at Night), a large work from 2002 in which a family is seen sleeping peacefully inside an igloo shown schematically directly from above, while a woman fishes in the foreground. This work also expresses a spiritual theme: upturned faces along the horizon whistle to summon the northern lights. Other images are more purely autobiographical. In Love, a small but compositionally dense image from 2003, expresses the artist’s deep feelings of devotion to her late husband, who she first met when she was three years old.
The clarity of Nungnik’s cut out forms gives these complex works a rare expressive power and graphic immediacy. At the same time, the often dream-like images are filled with a range of delicate details that enrich their meaning, the embroidered and beaded surfaces attaining a tactile presence. Nungnik’s patterned landscapes and stitchery-filled skies bristle with energy and movement. Nungnik accompanies the majority of her images with lines of verse-like text in English. These textual additions serve less as explanations of the imagery and more as parallel expressions of her sensibility and thought.