Winter online exhibition
Baffin Island, Nunavut
Walrus ivory, pigment
Accession numbers 56.26.466-467
Ivory carving has a long history in the Arctic, stretching back thousands of years. For the nomadic societies of this vast region, objects had to be small, easily portable, and functional. But even with such demands, creativity flourished in the creation of minute carvings made for personal use and enjoyment. Today artists often work on a much larger scale, more often in stone rather than ivory.
Arctic carvings most commonly depict animals. In the stark Arctic environment, where survival depends on hunting game, animals are at the forefront of people’s concerns and their artistic creativity. A hunter’s keen knowledge of his prey transforms bits of ivory into sleek and streamlined figurines, the surfaces glowing with fine polish.
These two elegant carvings – only 8cm in length – depict polar bears (Nanuq). Nanuq were traditionally hunted for their fur and meat, and a hunter’s success was based not simply on his skill, but on the belief that a bear offered up its life. The respectful treatment of the bear both in life and death was thought to secure a hunter’s continued success.
The carvings were made prior to 1927, some two decades before the Canadian government began to encourage the development of Inuit art as a commercial venture. Local co-operatives emerged in the 1960s supporting community artists, and now Inuit art has become a thriving business.
Collected by Reverend J W Bilby.
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