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Thomas and Philippa Iksiraq are among the founding members of the Baker Lake Printmaker’s Co-Operative in Nunavut. Their images speak to the contemporary challenges faced by the Inuit people as they stand at the brink between a nomadic way of life that was tied closely to the land and a lifestyle heavily influenced by Western values and ways of living. Through their practice, Thomas and Philippa seek to maintain their history and culture for the next generation of Inuit people and to tell their stories to the world.
The Baker Lake community has a rich history of Printmaking. Initiated in 1970 as a means to disseminate the artwork of the Inuit people of Baker Lake, then a part of the North West Territories, the Baker Lake Printmakers Co-operative provided printmaking facilities and connections with the south to produce and exhibit portfolios of their outstanding artwork. Precedents for the Inuit Print studio had been set by the Cape Dorset and Baffin Island Print Co-operatives in the 1950s and 60s providing alternative sources of income for people as they began to live in established communities rather than nomadically hunting for their livelihood. The various print co-operatives of the North produce a wide range of styles and subject matter that highlight the cultural diversity among the Inuit people and the unique artistic expression of individual artists. The print studios provide not only a way of making a living but a form of cultural affirmation.
The prints created at the Baker Lake Printmakers Co-Operative are made through the incorporation of stone-cut relief and stenciling. The laborious process of stone-cutting is used to create the primary black-line image while colour is sparingly applied with care and consideration through stencil. Although it takes a considerable amount of physical effort to produce the stone plates, the resistance and efficiency in printing provides an ideal process in a location where access to materials and equipment can be limited at best. Working in the Baker Lake Printmakers Co-operative studio since its inception as both “artists” and “printers”, Thomas and Philippa Iksiraq cut relief images into stones to be printed for their own drawings as well as cutting stones to print the drawings of other artists in the community.
The Iksiraqs’ work combines traditional subject matter with images of contemporary life in Baker Lake. They have witnessed the impact of drastic cultural change to the Inuit people as mining, industry and Western traditions took over a way of life that had been tied harmoniously to the land for thousands of years. This changing way of life is evident in their images. The Inuit legends and contemporary scenes appear in black ink against a pristine featureless white ground, reflecting the stark environment of the far north, yet the traditional motifs of the legends are often combined with signs of the Westernization of the community. Yet this depiction of the shift in a way of living is natural to a form of art that is itself interconnected with all aspects of life. Floating spirits, mythic forms and animals are intermingled with scenes from daily activities further indicating the interconnection between the spiritual world and the day-to-day life.
Thomas and Philippa’s work seeks to document and communicate the profound cultural changes to the Inuit way of life and to tell their stories to future generations. They state that they began drawing as a way to remember their own lives and to be able to tell future generations how they once lived. They want to tell their story to the younger generations of Inuit people and to the people living in southern Canada so they to can glimpse a way of living in harmony with the land even in one of the harshest climates on earth. Through print media Thomas and Philippa are enabled to communicate their important message to others in Canada and throughout the world.
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