Greenland and the Canadian Arctic, while geographically far removed from the galleries of New York and London, hold a solid place on the international arts scene. Each steeped in thousands of years of Inuit history, they are culturally significant destinations on our Arctic Quest voyage.
The second-largest settlement in Greenland, Sisimiut has managed to maintain their small fishing village vibe with picturesque harbour walkways and a bustling arts community. Houses dating as far back as the settlement of the colony in 1756 stand proud alongside the blue church, inaugurated in 1775.
Explore the Sisimiut Museum, home to an impressive collection of local trade, industry and shipping artifacts. The museum itself consists of seven red and yellow colonial homes, including the two-story old colonial manager’s residence.
Just steps away, visit the Artist’s Workshop at Uniarsualivimmut, the former Royal Greenlandic Trade warehouse. Here, local artists craft and sell jewellery and decorative items made from walrus or narwhal teeth, as they entertain questions and chat with visitors.
Cruising through the Davis Strait and across the Arctic Ocean lies Kimmirut, a tiny traditional Inuit community on Canada’s Baffin Island. Home to just 425 people, Kimmirut boasts Soper House Gallery, with its fantastic collection of Inuit scrimshaw ivory, serpentine, soapstone and marble creations.
Carvers and jewelers incorporate local stone and semi-precious gems from the surrounding hillsides into their work. The Inuit people here delight visitors with their warm nature and solid sense of family and tradition, a culture that has thrived over 4,000 years in Nunavut.
Further into Arctic Quest, we visit Cape Dorset, an internationally renowned hub for Inuit arts and culture. In fact, this is the most prolific artistan community in all of Canada, with 22% of its 1,300+ population employed in the arts.
Experience traditional Inuit culture; here, you can chat with an artist, or observe the carvers working the stone outside their homes. Take notice of the traditional dress of new mothers in Cape Dorset, who wear the amautik with a hooded pouch for carrying their infants.
Stop by the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, home to exquisite stonecut prints, etchings and carvings. Established in 1959, the co-operative is one of two sales outlets for local artisans (the other is in Toronto). It offers workspace and materials to any community member interested in acquiring printmaking skills; the co-operative has launched the career of many now-famous Inuit artists. Among them is celebrated visual artist Kenojuak Ashevak, the first woman involved in the co-operative.
In this award-winning 1963 documentary, filmmaker John Feeney explores how an Inuit’s drawings are transferred to stone, printed and sold, showcasing Kenojuak’s work. At eighty years of age, she is still a community resident and now a recipient of the Order of Canada and the National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement Award.
Visitors to Greenland and the high Arctic in Canada have a rare opportunity to experience life as it might have been thousands of years ago; to witness cultural traditions and artistic techniques passed down through dozens of generations to the warm, welcoming people who call these places their home.
Written by Miranda Miller