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Nunavik sculpture is produced in a wide variety of styles, from highly detailed representational works to abstract or minimalist pieces. The characteristics of the raw materials and the culture of Nunavik Inuit combine to give their art a unique flavour.

Ancient Skills
The first wave of contemporary artists was born at a time when the Inuit still survived on the game they hunted and lived in the shelters they made from skins, snow and stone. They relied on skills and traditions that had been passed on from generation to generation. Men and women were experts at fabricating objects that were used on a daily basis. Their skills at making things were what the first artists wanted to show off.

Attention to Detail

Typically, early pieces were meticulously detailed renditions of hunters or people involved in some task. Implements incorporated in these works were precisely portrayed by the artists with the expectation that buyers would appreciate the exactitude of their work. The stone that the artists used was perfect for such detailing.

Steatite, which is largely composed of talc, has a very fine grain and is soft enough to be shaped with hand tools. Its grain is quite even and the varieties they used turned dark grey when polished. These qualities helped show off the details so important to the artists. This attention to details, even today, is found in much of Nunavik art. The early themes are still popular with the artists and they pride themselves in their knowledge of their traditional ways.

Evolving Art
As Nunavik artists gained confidence in their art, more imaginative works began to appear. Some artists chose to describe the spiritual world while others put accuracy aside in order to convey emotion or drama in their depictions by exaggerating certain features or distorting shapes. Carvers also began to use other types of stone that they found attractive.

The characteristics of the new materials also affected carving styles. Early pieces made from serpentine were worked on the surface only because the stone is hard and chips more easily than steatite. Pieces carved in this style are monolithic, giving the viewer a sense of the original piece of stone. Today’s artists have more tools available to them and can cut into the stone to create more delicate and dynamic sculpture.

A Modern Art
Nunavik art continues to evolve as Inuit culture changes and as artists are exposed to outside influences. Some of the most exciting work coming out of Nunavik would not have been understood by earlier carvers. While the artists creating them are firmly rooted in Inuit culture, the ideas they express and the carving styles they adopt are very contemporary.

For over 50 years, Nunavik art has captured the attention of art enthusiasts because it communicates in a very personal way the thoughts and aspirations of the Nunavik Inuit. For the Inuit, art has helped them develop economically and provided an outlet by which they can share their rich cultural heritage.

Next page: History

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