Inuit Art Sculptures

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The History of Inuit Art

The Inuit people have a long history of creativity dating back over a thousand years. Art is very much ingrained in their culture and has been an important part of their way of life since they settled in the Arctic. Some of the first known examples of artistic items created by the Thule, who were the ancestors of modern-day Inuits, were combs, buttons, cooking pots, spears and harpoons with ornate graphics incised on them to make them look more appealing. Although the primary purpose of these items was practical rather than ornamental, they still paved the way for the wide variety of Inuit art that now exists today.

Early Thule Art

Much of the early Thule art included engraved lines, dots and images of human figures, skilfully combined to form simple yet striking ornamental patterns. As well as utilitarian items, the Thule also carved realistic sculptures of birds and bird-woman hybrids out of ivory, giving them flat bottoms so that they could be stood upright. Earrings, masks and amulets were also forged from stone, bone, ivory, antlers and animal skin and worn by the Inuit. The Inuit's ability to transform the limited materials that were available to them into such striking works of art is testament to their resourcefulness and passion for artistic endeavour.

The Sixteenth Century

In the sixteenth century, European missionaries and whalers began to trade weapons, alcohol and tea with the Inuit for their art. This led to the Inuit creating ivory miniatures specifically tailored towards European tastes, for example cribbage boards and ornaments intended to decorate boats and rifles. Missionaries encouraged the Inuit artists to incorporate Christian imagery into their work, creating a fascinating melding of European religious symbolism and traditional Inuit design elements.

The Influence of the Canadian Government

As the Inuit settled in permanent communities during the mid 1900s, they partially abandoned their traditional fishing and hunting centred way of life and started to depend more and more upon purchasing goods. It therefore became imperative for the Canadian government to develop sources of income that were suited to the Inuit in order to improve their livelihood. Given their long tradition of carving artistic items, handicrafts seemed to be the obvious answer. The Canadian authorities encouraged the Inuit to capitalise upon their skill at sculpting and develop ornaments to sell on to the country's non-Inuit residents, which created a boom in the production of Inuit art.

Block Printing

In late 1950s, author, artist and filmmaker James Houston went on a trip to Baffin Island in Canada to gather specimens of Inuit art and introduced block printing to the locals. Since his visit to the island, Inuit artists have produced countless works within this medium, often including depictions of traditional Inuit beliefs and customs in their creations. The arctic is an enchanting part of the world, as anyone who has ever been on arctic cruises or watched any of the countless documentaries about it that have been shown on TV can attest to, and these printings reflect this beauty perfectly. They are created using the same eye for detail that has characterised Inuit art throughout the ages and possess the magical, otherworldly quality that typifies the region.

Inuit Art Today

Nowadays there is a wider than ever range of exquisite Inuit sculptures, block printings, wall hangings, jewellery and model animals on offer, many of them alluding to the cultural and spiritual beliefs on the Inuit people. A lot of these pieces are hand carved, giving them a personal touch and ensuring that the artist remains in tune with the carving traditions of his or her people. The benefit of this is that each item is truly unique and original, as the work has not been created using a method that produces identical results each time. Inuit art is now popular the world over, with galleries as far a field as London displaying it. It is enabling art fans across the globe to possess a symbol of the beauty of the Arctic region and providing inspiration for artistically inclined individuals regardless of whether they hail from an Inuit background or not. Each new generation of Inuit gives rise to new sculptors, printers and painters, meaning that artists within the culture will possess a platform to express their creativity well into the future.

by: Evelyn Robinson





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