Inuit artist Germaine Arnaktauyok won a Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts.
Arnaktauyok is an engraver, painter and draftsman originally from Igloolik, Nunavut, and now based in Yellowknife.
The Canada Council for the Arts named Arnaktauyok as one of the winners on its Facebook page on Tuesday.
Arnaktauyok told CBC when she learned she would win the award about a year ago, she was taken aback.
“I was really surprised because, you know, younger people usually understand… I’m not young anymore,” she said. “I had never thought about it.”
Arnaktauyok has been an artist for over 60 years. She remembers drawing on things like gum wrappers since she was a child.
“Over the years I have continued… I never thought of being an artist. I just did what I can do,” Arnaktauyok said.
The Royal Canadian Mint chose her silkscreen design, The Drummer, on a dollar to mark the birth of Nunavut in 1999. She is also the subject of My name is Arnaktauyok: The life and art of Germaine Arnaktauyok, a book launched in Yellowknife in 2015.
She grew up in a camp outside of Igoolik with her family, where she heard stories from her father that influenced her work. His art portrays ceremonies, customs and legends related to Inuit culture past and present.
“I like to make Inuit legends… Why should I do landscapes? They are already there. I don’t need to do them… stories I love to do, I would use my imagination. I try to make them pretty precise as much as possible though. ”
Many of her themes also relate to the roles and traditions of women and have been featured in traditional Inuit tattoos, the council said.
“Arnaktauyok’s rich and beautifully colored designs represent a kaleidoscope of his heritage, ranging from astronomy and mythology to the philosophy of forgotten times,” the council statement said.
“An incredible honor”
The council said the curator of Inuit art at the Winnipeg Art Gallery nominated Arnaktauyok for the award.
Sarah Swan, a Yellowknife-based visual arts commentator and writer, said it was the first time a northerner had won the visual arts award.
“It’s an incredible honor and it’s an inspiration to the young artists who follow her. I hope she just feels tickled and thrilled because this is one of the most important awards that we have in Canada for the visual arts, ”Swan said.
She said it’s important that remote communities are recognized and seen, and hopes this award will bring more attention to Arnaktauyok’s work and art from places like Yellowknife and Igoolik.
Swan said the award also highlights the need for a territorial art gallery in the Northwest Territories.
“It’s a talent garden here that a lot of people haven’t quite seen or realized,” Swan said.
The Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts were established in 1999 by the Canada Council for the Arts and the Governor General of Canada. Up to eight prizes are awarded each year; each winner receives a medallion and $ 25,000.