Meet Jessie Oonark a talented and influential Canadian Inuit artist. Born in 1906 she spent most of her life in the Back River area of Nunavut leading a traditional hunter-nomadic existence moving from summer fishing camps to winter caribou hunting camps, housed in igloos and skin tents. In the late 1950s starvation forced her family to move to Baker Lake. Here she launched her artistic career and with the promotion help of a series of arts and crafts officers her wall hangings, prints and drawings received growing recognition and became widely exhibited. Jessie died in 1985 and the following year the Winnipeg Art Gallery mounted a retrospective of her artwork with a major touring exhibition and a catalogue. Currently one of Jessie’s colorful wall hangings is displayed in the Skylight area of the Winnipeg Art Gallery as part of the exhibit called Nivinngajuliaat which means ‘wall hanging’ in Inuktitut. Jessie’s wall hanging is full of faces of people talking. Some of them are in conversation with others.
Although Jessie is certainly a super star in the world of Inuit art all eight of her children are also gifted artists in their own right. In fact three of them have wall hangings on view at the Winnipeg Art Gallery right now along with their mother. This untitled work from 1977 was created by Jessie’s daughter Victoria Mamnguqsualuk Kayuryuk. It explores the relationship between people and animals. Victoria died in 2016. This untitled work from 1974 was stitched by Jessie’s daughter Miriam Qiyuk. It has both people and animals but their worlds are separated. Miriam also died in 2016. This hanging from 1992 is called Travelling on the Land. It is by another one of Jessie’s daughters Mary Yuusipik. Mary has included a rainbow and a smiling sun. She shows women walking with their babies on their backs, a person building an inukshuk, dogs hunting a caribou and a bird diving at people who are trying to steal its eggs. Mary Yuusipik lived a year longer than her sisters Victoria and Miriam but she died in 2017.
If you visit the Winnipeg Art Gallery to see our exhibit Nivinngajuliaat you will have a chance to explore the work of a talented family- Jessie Oonark and her three daughters Victoria, Miriam and Mary.