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 Josiah Nuilaalik  (1928 - 2005)

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Lived/Active: Nunavut / Canada      Known for: Inuit sculpture, carving, printmaking

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Disc Number E2385 is primarily known as Josiah Nuilaalik

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Josiah Nuilaalik RCA (1928 – 2005) (1)
“I was told to make these things as people down south like to buy them.” – Josiah Nuilaalik (2)

A prominent Canadian Inuit* (Eskimo) sculptor, carver and printmaker, Josiah Nuilaalik was born in the Back River area (near the northern mainland shore) of the District of Keewatin (now Nunavut) and lived in Baker Lake, Nunavut where he died. His works have been included in numerous landmark exhibitions and they are in several important museum collections.

His mediums included stone, antler, bone, ivory, sinew, stonecut* print, jewellery and mixed mediums. His subjects were figures, Inuit genre, shamans, the spirit world, mythology, legends, fantasy, and Arctic wildlife. His styles could be described as Realism*, Surrealism*, Primitive Art* and Inuit Art*. The AskART images are excellent illustrations of his most recognizable type of work.

Like many Inuit artists, Nuilaalik was largely self taught. Perhaps his only outside influences would be the staff of a government organized community arts and crafts centre. The art dealers and traders who worked at it or visited it would naturally give the Inuit artists feedback on what subjects and materials sold best in the Canadian and international markets to the south, which explains: the many “Shaman” titled images in Nuilaalik’s oeuvre and the quote that begins this biography. (3)

Since the mid 1960s his carvings have been included in numerous important exhibitions, such as “Eskimo Carvers of Keewatin, N.W.T.”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba [showing at Winnipeg International Airport] (1964); “Eskimo Sculpture”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1967); “An Exhibition of Eskimo Sculpture, Eskimo Prints and Paintings of Norval Morrisseau”, Art Association of Newport, Rhode Island (1968); “Shamans and Spirits: Myths and Medical Symbolism in Eskimo Art”, National Museum of Man, Ottawa, [renamed Canadian Museum of Civilization in 1986] (1976 – 1981); “Polar Vision: Canadian Eskimo Graphics”, Jerusalem Artists' House Museum, Israel (1978); “Baker Lake Prints and Print Drawings”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1979); “Oonark's Family”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1986); “The Swinton Collection of Inuit Art”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1987); “Building on Strengths: New Inuit Art from the Collection”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1988); “Drawings and Sculpture from Baker Lake”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1992); “Multiple Realities: Inuit Images of Shamanic Transformation”, Winnipeg Art Gallery*, Manitoba (1993); “The Inuit Imagination”, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Manitoba (1993); “Northern Rock: Contemporary Inuit Stone Sculpture”, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinberg, Ontario (1999); and “Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum”, Heard Museum, Phoenix, Arizona (touring the USA 2006 – 2011). (4)

His works have also been included in solo and group exhibitions at prominent commercial galleries, such as Inuit Gallery of Vancouver, B.C.; Marion Scott Gallery, Vancouver, B.C.; The Upstairs Gallery, Winnipeg, Manitoba; Gallery 100 Hudson, New York City; Ancestral Spirits Gallery, Port Townsend, Washington; Albers Gallery of Inuit Art, San Francisco; and The Arctic Circle, Los Angeles, California.

According to the Canadian Heritage Information Network* and individual museum websites, Nuilaalik’s works are in the permanent collections of the Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto), Canadian Museum of Civilization (Gatineau, Quebec), Carleton University Art Gallery (Ottawa, Ontario), Heard Museum (Phoenix, Arizona), Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre (Yellowknife, Northwest Territories), Quebec Museum of Fine Arts (Quebec City), and the Winnipeg Art Gallery* (Manitoba).

Josiah Nuilaalik’s honors include being elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts*.
(1) Researchers please note: Information for this biography was obtained from the listed sources using two different recognized names for the artist – Josiah Nuilaalik and Josiah Nooeelarlik. The Canadian Heritage Information Network* and lists three alternate last names for Josiah Nuilaalik, they are: Nooeelarlik, Nuilalik and Nuelale. They note that these last names may be attached to the first names of Josiah or Joshua or Joseph, or combined in some other way, or used alone. There is also his Canadian government issued Inuit Disc Number* – E2385 – which may be used to sign works, and his signature in syllabics*, which is frequently used to sign works.

(2) Source: Page 66, Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum (2006), by Ingo Hessel (see AskART book references). The full quote (Artist interview, 2004): “Sometimes it is not my own idea… if I could do what I had in mind I would do a lot of people in kayaks instead of carvings of transformation. I would carve what I used to see and what I used in my life – from my life experience. I have never seen transformation with my eyes, but I carve what I imagine it would look like. I was told to make these things as people down south like to buy them.” For more information about the origin and inspiration of Inuit Art* see the AskART glossary entry for Inuit Art*.

(3) Josiah Nuilaalik is the eldest son of the distinguished Inuit artist Jessie Oonark OC, RCA (see AskART); they both became professional artists at about the same time – in the early 1960s. Source: “Biographies of Inuit Artists” (see AskART book references).

(4) Please note: The exhibition “Shamans and Spirits: Myths and Medical Symbolism in Eskimo Art” toured the USA for over a decade. The American venues included the American Psychiatric Association, Harvard University (1978); University Art Gallery, State University of New York at Albany, New York (1982); Gardiner Art Gallery, Oklahoma State University (1984); Missoula Museum of the Arts, Missoula, Montana (1987); and the Field Museum of Natural History, Chicago (1988). Source: Museum websites and press releases.
Arctic Spirit: Inuit Art from the Albrecht Collection at the Heard Museum (2006), by Ingo Hessel (see AskART book references)

Biographical Index of Artists in Canada (2003), by Evelyn de Rostaing McMann (see AskART book references)

An Inuit Perspective Baker Lake Sculpture (2000), by Marie Bouchard (see AskART book references)

Sculpture of the Inuit (2000), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)

The Inuit Imagination: Arctic Myth and Sculpture (1993), by Harold Seidelman and James Turner (see AskART book references)

Biographies of Inuit Artists (1993), compiled and published by the Inuit Art Section, Indian and Northern Affairs, Canada (see AskART book references)

Sculpture of the Inuit (1992), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)

Sculpture of the Eskimo (1972), by George Swinton (see AskART book references)

Canadian Heritage Information Network*

Royal Canadian Academy of Arts

Mundia – website (only for place of death)

* For more in-depth information about these terms and others, see Glossary

Written and submitted by M.D. Silverbrooke.

** If you discover credit omissions or have additional information to add, please let us know at
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