She is the master of the herringbone stitch! Inuit fabric artist Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq uses the herringbone stitch almost exclusively in her artwork, but what a story she can weave with that stitch. This untitled work of Elizabeth’s is one of the fascinating pieces in the wall hanging section of the current exhibit Our Land at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Take a closer look at Elizabeth’s piece and you can see a happy family near the top. Where are they off to? There is a kayaker with a dog perched precariously on the back of his boat. What is it doing there? Two characters appear to be shouting at each other. What are they upset about? Two people are dancing. Are they celebrating or mourning something? Elizabeth was born in 1916 and her family lived a nomadic life till starvation and poor health forced them to settle in Baker Lake. Here Elizabeth become part of a sewing cooperative and was one of the first women in Baker Lake to use her talents as a seamstress to make wall hangings instead of clothing. In some of her hangings not only the figures but much of the space between them is covered in stitches. Elizabeth’s magic needle can turn the herringbone stitch into a bird’s feather, a dog’s hair or a fish’s scales.
Fanny Algaalaga Avatituq is the creator of this hanging. Fanny also comes from Baker Lake but is forty years younger than Elizabeth Angrnaqquaq. Although both women stitch with embroidery floss Fanny’s work is brighter, denser and more detailed. The children I take through the galleries like to play a kind of I Spy game with this wall hanging looking for animals hiding in the leaves and flowers. A couple of figures are in the process of transformation.
There are so many stories waiting to be told in this hanging by Victoria Mamngupsualuk Kayuryuk. It depicts an Inuit shaman named Keeveeok or Kiviuq who some say has lived for thousands of years. There are countless legends of Kiviuq’s journeys and adventures. Filmaker James Houston compiled information from interviews with forty different Inuit elders to make a movie about Kiviuq in 2007. On Houston’s website you can read different versions of six stories about Kiviuq with titles like Grizzly Bear, The Storm at Sea and Goose Wife.
Martha Kakee who wove Fishing in the Weir says she wanted to show how things were done in days gone by with her artwork. Here she shows us how fishing weirs were built by piling stones at the mouth of rivers in a crescent shape to make a wall to trap the fish. People waded into the river and hooked the fish with long-handled spears called kakivat. A needle was passed through the fish under the spine to add it onto a stringer.
Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq has a bold colourful style that makes her work easily recognizable. In this hanging we can see the interplay between humans and animals. What stories of the spirits is Irene depicting here? Irene’s pieces are based on Inuit myths and legends told by her grandmother who adopted her when her parents died. Her interesting shamanistic figures usually show heads in profile and duplicate. Perhaps some of these figures are the story tellers themselves.
Other posts about Our Land