This is a self-portrait by Cape Dorset artist Pitaloosie Saila. Isn’t she incredibly lovely? The portrait shows the artist as a young woman. Although in reality Pitaloosie’s face was not tattooed, she has portrayed herself with tattoos because she remembered her aunts having tattoos like this. Pitaloosie has put her portrait on an ulu, a traditional Inuit woman’s knife. Pitaloosie had a large personal collection of different kinds of ulus.
I was so very sad to learn of the death of Pitaloosi Saila last Saturday. She was the creator of some of my favorite pieces of art on display at the Winnipeg Art Gallery during the eight years I worked there. Pitaloosi was 79 when she died and had been contributing to the Cape Dorset print collection for over 60 years.
I had the privilege of meeting Pitaloosi Saila in person in October of 2017 when she came to the city for the opening of an exhibit featuring 32 of her stunning prints curated by Susan Gustavison and Darlene Wight. The prints told the story of Pitaloosie’s life.
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. There is little Pitaloosie in the amauti in her mother’s parka.
After Pitaloosie’s mother died she was raised by her grandmother. In this print, she has shown her grandmother dancing a reel on one of the whaling ships that came into Cape Dorset.
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. Like many other Inuit children who were separated from their parents and taken to southern hospitals, Pitaloosie lost her Inituktuk language and couldn’t even talk to her family when she returned home.
Pitaloosie began doing artwork in the 1960s and in her lifetime produced close to 1,500 pieces. Her print above Arctic Madonna was featured on a UNICEF greeting card in 1983.
One of her art pieces Fisherman’s Dream was featured on a Canadian stamp.
This is my very favorite piece of Pitaloosie’s. Three generations look forward and one looks back.
Pitaloosie’s art told the story of the past and provided a forward-looking vision for a younger generation. One of Pitaloosie’s granddaughters is also an artist.
I was very sorry to hear about the death of Pitaloosie Saila. We are so fortunate to have her beautiful artwork that gives us an intimate and personal look at the life of a remarkable Inuit woman and artist.
Note: Except for the stamp all the images in this post were ones I photographed during the Pitaloosie Saila exhibit at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017