Sculptures from Coral Harbour
October 3 – 24, 2020
The community of Coral Harbour is referred to as Salliq in Inuktitut, meaning large flat island in front of the mainland, fittingly dubbed “Coral Harbour” after the fossilized coral found around the community’s waters. The hamlet sits on a southern coast of Southampton Island, located at the entrance to Hudson Bay at Foxe Basin. The artistic tradition of Coral Harbour is one of diversity; Inuit from Baffin Island, Arctic Quebec, and the Keewatin Region have gradually settled into the area since the early 1900s, bringing with them styles from all over the arctic which have been passed down to a new generation of contemporary artists working primarily in sculpture. Today, these artists display exceptional skill at transforming the materials local to their community into extraordinary works.
Artist Daniel Shimout, for example, sculpts scenes of animal transformations, spirits beings, hunters, and emotive Sednas with intricate detailing within a wide range of materials. From the porous surface of whalebone to the smoothness of caribou antler and sometimes ivory (walrus tusk), Shimout’s used of mixed-media is remarkable. His subject matter has notably shifted in recent years, veering toward the more fantastical dimension of the worlds of myths and spirits. Shimout noted that after seeing the work of his grandfather Joseph Saimut for the first time at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2017, he became inspired to sculpt mermaids.  Many of these fantastical Sednas can be seen in this exhibition, composed of materials akin to the Inuit goddess of the sea: whalebone, walrus tusk, and baleen.
Spirit beings also appear in the work of Charlie Saviakjuk Jr. and Henry Nakoolak. Their eel-like creatures appear to float in mid-air above an antler peg and base, oscillating in a delightfully ambiguous space between animal and spirit. Other artists utilize stone to depict the local wildlife; a material that is usually abundant among Arctic communities but is in short supply in Coral Harbour. Ningeocheak Kupapik is one whose curious owls with inlaid antler eyes are pleasantly distinctive to his own signature style. Artists like Jimmy Nakoolak and Jeffrey Ell stay true to animals of the land such as the powerful yet amiable bear, while also reflecting on subjects more emblematic of traditional life, including iconic mother and child scenes and kayaking hunters.
Whether work in bone, stone, antler—or walrus whiskers—the artists of Coral Harbour continue to prove that the art of sculptures sees few limits. Featuring works by: Fred Degrace, Jeffrey Ell, Johnny Kataluk, Henry Nakoolak, Jimmy Nakoolak, Malu Natakok, Kupapik Ningeocheak, George Noah, Charlie Saviakjuk Jr., and Daniel Shimout. Daniel Shimout, “Arnakallak Saimut,” Inuit Art Quarterly Online, https://www.inuitartfoundation.org/iaq-online/30-artists-daniel-shimout.