Isn’t she incredibly lovely? This is my favorite image in the Pitaloosie Saila exhibit currently on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery. The self-portrait shows the artist as a young woman. Although in reality her face is not tattooed, in this image she has portrayed herself with tattoos in the South Baffin Island style. Pitaloosie remembers her aunts having tattoos like this. Pitaloosie has put her portrait on a ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife. Pitaloosie has a personal collection of ulus of many different kinds. Pitaloosie Saila is 75 years old and has been drawing and making prints since the 1960s. The exhibit currently at the Winnipeg Art Gallery provides a wonderful retrospective of her work over the years. What I like so much is that it gives us a glimpse into Pitaloosie’s personal life.
She has made a lithograph of her grandmother dancing a reel on one of the whaling ships that came into port in Cape Dorset.
In this lithograph we see four generations of Pitaloosie’s family. On the far right is her great-grandmother chewing a seal skin to soften it. In the middle is Pitaloosie’s grandmother with a more modern hairstyle and clothing. On the far left is Pitaloosie’s mother. She died when Pitaloosie was only two years old so the artist never really got to know her mother but she has dressed her in an even more modern way than the other two women. Could that be little Pitaloosie in the amauti in her mother’s parka?
Pitaloosie was in Winnipeg for the opening of her exhibit and she told us stories about the various pieces on display.
In this stonecut Pitaloosie is playing with her wooden dolls. They were made for her by her father and uncles. The dolls had heads and bodies and legs but no arms. Pitaloosie cherished her dolls and she made clothes for them which helped her to learn sewing skills.
There is a sad story behind this gorgeous watercolor of Pitaloosie and her sister. As a child Pitaloosie was sent south to hospitals for seven years because of a back injury and complications from tuberculosis. While she was gone her dear sister Aqsatunnguaq died. Pitaloosie didn’t find out till she returned home to Cape Dorset.
Pitaloosie said her artwork is a way to leave parts of her heritage to her children and grandchildren. Her artwork also provides a beautiful glimpse into her personal life for the many people who love and admire her work.