Deceptively simple

Annie Pootoogook’s exhibit, Kinngait Compositions, shows her view of an Inuit village

Before entering the exhibit there’s a warning sign telling audiences of the explicit content seen in the pictures, including nude drawings of men and women.
Before entering the exhibit there’s a warning sign telling audiences of the explicit content seen in the pictures, including nude drawings of men and women.
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Annie Pootoogook’s Kinngait Compositions is adjacent to a Baroque Art exhibit in the Agnes Etherington Art Centre. Beside its neighbour, the collection of pencil crayon drawings can seem childish at first.

Intended as honest portrayals of her experience, the images are misleadingly simple. They speak of a dramatic change in the Inuit way of life, brought upon by western consumerism and culture. Pootoogook is a contemporary Inuit artist from Kinngait, Nunavut. Kinngait Compositions, a series of drawings from 2001 to 2006, reflect Pootoogook’s Arctic community. The drawings show Kinngait through Pootoogook’s eyes — wildlife, Mounties, sex, happiness, tears and a rapidly westernizing Inuit community.

The scenes vary in emotion, switching from harsh realities to quaint moments at home. “Shooting a Mountie” depicts an Inuit man recoiling as his shotgun removes a fatal chunk of a police officer’s chest. “Erotic Scene — 4 Figures” is an orgy on the living room carpet. The exhibit isn’t just reflecting Pootoogook’s life, but her perspective as an artist.

Pootoogook’s work has always focused on the Kinngait community. In 2006, she won the Sobey Award for Contemporary Canadian Art.

The heart of the show is a documentary-style video by Annette Mangaard called “Riding Light into the World.” The movie follows the activities of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, now known as the Kinngait Co-op. The co-operative develops, produces and markets the fine art of its Inuit artist-members.

On the website for the group’s Toronto marketing office, it says, “When artists work with other artists, the creative process is taken for granted. At the Kinngait Studios, this creativity has been channeled into the making of images that represent the Inuit way of life. We Southerners call it art, but interestingly, there is no equivalent word in Inuktitut.” According to the post, the word often used in Inuktitut for art is isumanivi, meaning “your own thoughts.”

In a way, the exhibit is organized along this very idea. When you walk through the gallery, you’re walking through Pootoogook’s thoughts.

“Pootoogook’s work risked being overlooked, dismissed as not-Inuit-enough,” Jan Allen, the Chief Curator/Curator of Contemporary Art at the Agnes, wrote in the exhibit’s catalogue.

But a deeper look at this artwork reveals the changing world of an Inuit artist.

Annie Pootoogook’s Kinngait Compositions is on display at the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in the Contemporary Feature and Davies Foundation Galleries until Dec. 11.

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