Inuit artist Anni Pillaktuaq presents a collection of distinctive symbolic paintings that evoke stories and reflect her native culture. View more of her portfolio here.
Creating art, whether it is a painting or a knitted scarf, is a deeply profound and life-changing act. There you are with your chosen medium harnessing both learned skill and pure intuition.
I am an Inuit artist with disability born and raised in Iqaluit, Nunavut. I learned to paint and draw by watching others first. Much later in my life, I enrolled in formal classes at the Ottawa School of Arts to work on technique.
By this time, I had already known what I was drawn to—cubism. It is a very freeing art movement that produces space for the artist to explore that freedom. When there are no stringent rules, what can I create? Where can my imagination take me?
I never thought I would become an artist. As someone with disability, I am frequently underestimated. When you have disability, there are plenty of people who will tell you what you are capable of doing. It takes time to tune out all the noise to explore your strengths and weaknesses. I can create art. But I had assistance in writing this article because I do not have the language to express myself. I had to learn this about myself.
It only takes one person to support you and suddenly there you are, trying something new. Something fun. At least this is what happened to me. I started painting largely because it was fun. I think artists feel pressure to have a thoughtful backstory about the “why” of their career but I believe that painting for “fun” is a perfectly compelling reason.
Fun creates happiness. I want people to look at my work and feel joy, whimsy and curiosity. Sometimes I hit on heavy subjects around mental health and addictions in my work. In my experience of overcoming darkness and struggle, I’ve found resilience, community, connection, light, confidence and magic. All things of beauty that I aim to show in my work.
I come from a creative culture rooted in art and storytelling. These are modes of knowledge transmission and community building. I remember our traditional Inuit stories, as well as the lived stories of my family and community. My own story too. These reveal truths about myself, and my culture. In my art, I do not work to illustrate stories, but instead all the symbols and themes that make up the story.
The many bits and pieces inspire curiosity. It’s meant to be something that you look at and ask, “What’s this?” You look it up and realize it’s a qulliq (an oil lamp), an Inuit tattoo, a drum and so on. It prompts you to learn about the Inuit, our culture, how we thrive on our land and more.
In this way, my work is also a space for me to breakthrough stereotypes of Inuit as “others.” We live in cities, we work in offices, and we do all these things while maintaining our Inuit identity.
*Transcribed and written by Art Den team
Artist Annie Pillaktauq invites you to follow her on Instagram.