Though seemingly simplistic, each Inuit drawing often speaks more than a thousand words about the social life and spiritual culture of the Arctic Canadian.
The Dying Man Becomes a Wolf (1972) is an illustration of a song by Kukiiyaut, an artist from Baker Lake, Northern Canada (Butler, “Shamanism”). The song was of her deceased father’s, in which he wished that upon his death, he would turn into a wolf forever hunting caribou (Ibid.). The picture is drawn into two perpendicular orientations. In one direction is the self-portrait of the artist in a profile view. She wears an amautik, a large-hooded upper garment for Arctic women. Fire comes out of her mouth as she sings the song. The verse is written in Inuktitut syllabics hovering over her head. When turned counterclockwise by ninety degrees, her singing morphs into the dead man’s dream. His lifeless body lies faded in a coffin. Above it, his spirit has become a fierce wolf. The transformation in process can be seen as the wolf’s body still has human hands and legs. As the man’s wish, the wolf is chasing after a great caribou. Besides the four figures and the writing, the drawing has no background and resembles a frame in a comic strip.
Kukiiyaut is not the only Baker Lake artist who appears to turn the direction of her picture as she draws. Anguhadlug, an artist and a great hunter and leader of his people, also used the same practice in many of his drawings. In his Kayaks and Caribou (1970), one of the kayaks is drawn upside down. Similarly in Drum Dancing (1970), people are drawn surrounding a greatly enlarged ring-shaped drum at the centre as he rotates the picture around it. The technique allows The Dying Man to map out two different worlds on the same picture plane: the physical world of the living daughter and the spiritual world of the dying father.
The amautik is one of the distinctive cultural signs of the Inuit tradition. It also appears in many other artworks of the Canadian Arctic,...