Notes from Nelson Graburn’s talk on “Canadian Inuit Art”


With a major hat tip to my newest Twitter friend, I’d like to tell you a little bit about a talk I went to hosted by the Canadian Studies Program and Institute of International Studies (with delicious sandwiches from CN!) at the University of California Berkeley on 28 January 2015.


There was a great turn out for this talk, with approximately sixty people in the audience. Needless to say, the sandwiches and cookies were cleaned out – and yours truly, scavenging graduate student extraordinaire, may have had something to do with that.


After lunch, Professor Irene Bloemraad introduced Professor Nelson Graburn. (It was basically a McGill alumni party. Go, McGill!)

This Thomas Garden Barnes Lecture was celebrating over 30 years of research and discussion in Canadian Studies at Berkeley. The date was particularly auspicious; as Bloemraad pointed out, the Iranian hostage crisis was resolved in January 1981, an incident that inspired Barnes to found Canadian Studies at Berkeley in 1982, so the talk was an anniversary of many sorts (not to mention celebration of Rita Ross’s retirement that followed!).


Graburn was another founder of Canadian Studies at Berkeley, and claims not to know the meaning of the word “retirement,” as he continues lecturing despite (or because of?) his emeritus status. He has researched Inuit culture in Canada, Alaska, and Greeland since 1959. His talk focused on the recent history of Inuit art, mainly in the eastern Arctic in Canada.

As he explained, he was trying to fit 1,000 hours of lecture into a half hour segment, so we didn’t get to see everything, but we did see photos of carvings, textiles, and prints from several artists, including:

Pitseolak Ashoona

Pitseolak Ashoona


Kananginak Pootoogook



My Daughter's First Steps

Napatchie Pootoogook


Nataq Ungalaaq


Karoo Ashevak


Davie Atchealak


Oqituk Ashoona

maManasi Akpalianpik

Dancing Walrus


amittu_davidialuk_alasuaDavidialuk Alasua Amittu

Mark Tungilik

Mark Tungilik

 Graburn spoke about the effects of globalization on the market(s) for Inuit art, from trade with HBC (“Here Before Christ”) outposts to “RCMP [officers] who hardly did anything” to the influence of James Houston and other commercial artists who encouraged Inuit art sales in southern markets. He also considered the effects of different stone material available in different locations across the Arctic (as well as the differences between artists that, of course, contribute to individual stylistic variations).


He closed with this rather telling cartoon from the New Yorker, adding that stereotypical Inuit (and “Eskimo”) “primitive” art has sold particularly well, but there is increasing popularity (and expense!) of unique Inuit art in the current market.

Other Artists:

– Agnes Nanogak

– Abraham Anghik Ruben

– David Ruben Piqtoukun

– Eli Sallualuk Angiyou

Relevant Publications:

– The White Dawn by James Houston

– Inuit Art Quarterly

– Alaska Native Art: Tradition, Innovation, Continuity by Susan W. Fair

More Art:

Yua, Spirit of the Arctic: Eskimo and Inuit Art from the Collection of Thomas G. Fowler (San Francisco)

– Inuit Art Alive

– Museum of Inuit Art (Toronto)

– Inuit art: Masterworks from the Arctic

– “Eskimo Artist: Kenojuak” (1963 NFB documentary)


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2 Responses to Notes from Nelson Graburn’s talk on “Canadian Inuit Art”

  1. Pingback: Swipes File: Turning Tail(s) | This dissertation is going to be fun, like dessert

  2. Pingback: Swipes #46: Ice Floes | This dissertation is going to be fun, like dessert

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