I am absolutely fascinated by this trio of heads created in clay by Inuit artist Robert Tatty. They are part of the Our Land exhibit currently on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Each face is so unique and there are animals and people all over the heads. This person looks relatively happy. Their mouth is open showing teeth in a smile. Perched on top of the head is a person watching while two bears approach each other. Are they ready to fight? Or is it a mother approaching her child to protect it?If you look at that same head from the back the person appears to be scaling some sort of rock face and there seems to be an igloo at the top.
This person definitely looks sad. Notice how the tails of the creatures on either side of the mouth draw the ends of the mouth down. The animals look a bit like bears, but they have flipper- like appendages and are perhaps transforming from one kind of animal into another. The one at the top seems almost ready to fly away. This person looks stoic. Do you notice how their ears are formed by some kind of creature? The fox or bear on top seems to have sprouted wings. While the other two heads feature eyes half closed this one’s eyes are wide open and recessed. The rear view features a person looking at some kind of lizard that appears to have crawled out of a hole. And flying downwards are winged creatures with tiny heads and pawed feet.
Robert Tatty who was born in 1927 is the creator of these pieces. Here you can read about how his Inuit father successfully ran a Hudson’s Bay post at Ukkusiksalik. Robert’s biological father was one of the previous managers. Here Robert’s wife Annie talks about her arranged marriage to Robert when she was sixteen and how they lived in Rankin Inlet for most of their married life. Robert initially worked in the nickel mines there. In 1962 the mines closed and an arts and crafts project began in Rankin Inlet as a way to encourage local people to try their hand at carving, sewing and ceramics. By 1966 the Rankin Inlet Ceramics Project was producing a large number of works which were critically praised. However sales lagged and in 1977 the workshop closed. From 1978 to 1980 Robert and Annie moved back to Robert’s childhood home in Ukkusiksalik where Robert worked as a hunting guide. Ill health and their children’s education needs eventually took them back to Rankin Inlet. Robert died in 2009.