Annie Pootoogook’s work was recently featured in MASS MoCA’s Oh, Canada exhibition, which will be showing in several venues across Atlantic Canada for three months starting June 27, 2014, and then in several Calgary venues starting Jan. 31, 2015.
“I see and I do,” says Annie Pootoogook, summing up the artistic method that is rapidly making her a major figure of 21st-centry Inuit art. Born in 1969 in Cape Dorset on Baffin Island, Pootoogook is a third-generation artist. Her mother was Napachie Pootoogook, an important West Baffin Co-op printmaker, and her grandmother was renowned Inuit artist Pitseolak Ashoona, whose drawings depicted Inuit legends and traditional nomadic ways of life. Over the course of their lifetimes, dramatic changes in the Arctic, including the move to permanent settlements, created the conditions that shape Annie Pootoogook’s art.
Annie Pootoogook began drawing in 1997 at the encouragement of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, which provides studio space and other support for artists in the community. Drawn with coloured pencil on paper, her images reflect her own personal experiences and the everyday life of her community. Like her mother and grandmother before her, Pootoogook is often described as a “chronicler,” but rather than producing the hunting and fishing scenes we have come to expect from Inuit artists, she depicts a world of prefabricated housing, video games, ATM machines, and television sets that challenges conventional assumptions about both Inuit life and Inuit art. Sometimes her work addresses disturbing themes, including mental illness, alcoholism, and her own struggle with domestic abuse.
Pootoogook’s drawings have been featured in solo and group exhibitions across Canada, including major shows at Toronto’s Power Plant gallery and the Illingworth Kerr Gallery of the Alberta College of Art and Design. In 2006, she won the Sobey Art Award, the pre-eminent prize for Canadian artists under the age of 40, and she was accepted into the Artists at Glenfiddich residency program in Scotland. International recognition also came in 2007 when Pootoogook became the first Inuit artist invited to participate in the international art exhibition Documenta in Kassel, Germany.
Pootoogook says she draws out of necessity: “If I didn’t start drawing… I would be hungry and on welfare.” But she also says, “I love my work… because it really helps my life to feel better…. It lifts my life a lot.”