Annie Pootoogook’s Lasting Legacy for Inuit Art in Canada

Annie Pootoogook left this world too soon—but with this book on her life and art, her revolutionary importance and her convention-shattering impact continue to resonate

“Cutting ice” is an Inuit phrase denoting that something has importance. The art of Annie Pootoogook certainly falls into this category.

A third-generation Inuit artist from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), whose grandmother was the famed printmaker Pitseolak Ashoona, Pootoogook has been at the forefront of a remarkable renaissance of Inuit art that has taken place over the past 20 years, marking its emergence from being the subject of ethnographic curiosity to being recognized as being on the cutting edge of contemporary art practices globally.

Annie Pootoogook was not the first Inuit artist to portray both the light and the dark side of contemporary Inuit life in her work, but she was the first to gain international recognition as a contemporary artist and the first to, as Inuit curator Heather Igloliorte wrote in 2016, break through the “ethnic art glass ceiling” that had kept Inuit artists from being taken seriously as, simply, artists.

Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice, co-published by the McMichael gallery and New Brunswick’s Goose Lane Editions, ably documents Pootoogook’s all-too-short career. The artist first came to national attention when she won the Sobey Art Award, Canada’s preeminent award for contemporary art, in 2006. Sadly, she was also the focus of national attention in 2016 when her body was recovered from the Rideau Canal in Ottawa, where she had been living, often on the streets, struggling with drug and alcohol addiction.

Between those events, she exhibited in major exhibitions across the world. In so doing she opened the door to contemporaries such as Kinngait and indeed all of Nunavut, including her cousins Shuvinai Ashoona, Itee Pootoogook and Siassie Kenneally, as well as other Inuit artists like Tim Pitsiulak.

This book, which accompanies a major retrospective exhibition at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, Ontario, is the most definitive publication to date on this important Canadian artist. The author, Nancy Campbell, is one of the most highly regarded curators of Inuit Art in the world. Her deep knowledge and appreciation of Inuit artists, their culture and their land, shines through in every page. The book serves as a memorial to Pootoogook, as an important introduction to her remarkable art and as a much-needed history of the art milieu from which Pootoogook rose with such brief splendour.

Divided into four sections, each bracketed by numerous illustrations of Potoogook’s drawings, the book provides a readable, engaging portrait of an artist and her community. The first section is a history of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, the sales and production centre in Kinngait (Cape Dorset) that has supported so many of the artists from the community and, as Campbell makes clear in her history, can take credit for the emergence of Inuit art onto the world stage.

The second section, Dear Annie…, looks at the life and art of Annie Pootoogook. Annie became famous after winning the Sobey, but she had already been making art for many years and was on the road to recognition as a contemporary artist. Her evolution is traced in Campbell’s text, which is clear and informative, written from the standpoint of a curator who knew Annie in Kinngait and in Toronto, and who had worked with her over many years.

The third section, compiled by Stephanie Gagné with the consultation of Campbell, introduces the reader to some of Annie’s contemporaries from Kinngait, artists who are (or were) also pushing the boundaries of what was considered Inuit Art. Short biographic sections and examples of their work paint a picture of a vibrant arts community.

Finally, the book wraps up with another short essay by Campbell, looking at the legacy of Annie Pootoogook and the impact her career has had and is still having on the perception of Inuit art in Canada and beyond.

Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice, even from the pdf galleys, is visually striking—a beautiful book rich in imagery. Presented in English and Inuktitut, the texts flow well across the pages and the images are large and well reproduced. Truly a significant publication, this book deserves a much longer life than is normal for the typical exhibition catalogue—which this is surely not. Annie Pootoogook left this world too soon—but with this book on her life and art, her revolutionary importance and her convention-shattering impact continue to resonate.

Annie Pootoogook: Cutting Ice
Nancy Campbell
Goose Lane Editions / The McMichael Canadian Art Collection

Written By

Ray Cronin is a senior arts professional with over 25 years’ experience in multiple aspects of museums and creative industries. Most recently the CEO of the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Cronin led that institution for seven years.

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