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A Portrait of Inuit Self-Sustainability Carved in Stone

Uqallaqatigiinngniq: Sharing Voices

Sep 03, 2021
by Topsy Banksland

Pierre Karlik demonstrates the cycle of harvest and abundance well, showcasing the intimate interdependence between Inuit and the animals of the tundra. Karlik’s monumental sculpture titled [Inuit] Hunting was carved in Kangiqliniq (Rankin Inlet), NU, in 1965. Presently located at the TD Gallery of Inuit Art in Toronto, ON, this sculpture depicts a scene of traditional hunting, along with the wildlife Inuit often harvested. 

In one sculpture, Karlik immerses you in the essence of Inuit culture and traditional sustenance. By storytelling in stone, he shows specific moments relevant in the Inuit world that encourage one’s imagination and education in Inuit heritage. His use of natural materials and techniques depicting action scenes and the animals of the tundra exhibit the unique style he possesses.

The main subject is an Inuk hunter modelled onto his belly, arms outstretched, looking forward to the seal his hands grasp. The hunter is carved into the top of the stone, and the seal is in front of him. Behind his feet, slightly more raised on the edge of the stone, sits the head of a walrus. Its long ivory tusks jut out of the left tip of the carving. From the middle to the bottom of the sculpture, a wall of rabbit, wolf, owl, fish and beluga are inlaid with ivory against the stone. Between the wolf and the rabbit, a human face is engraved directly into the wall.


Pierre Karlik
[Inuit] Hunting (1965)
Courtesy TD Corporate Art Collection

In terms of the placement of features and elements of colour, Karlik has skillfully carved smooth lines and curves into the stone, which deliver a sense of movement to the owl in flight and the darting rabbit. The dark stone and ivory pieces perfectly complement each other; the contrasting white and black painting is a vivid picture of the liveliness of the tundra. 

It is one of those sculptures where the longer I observe the details, the more I become engaged. Throughout the stone, the scene conveys the intricate relationship between land, animals and humans. Upon further review, I notice the hunter as the main scene of the moment, and below is what the hunter must possess the knowledge of: years of traditional knowledge cultivated from hunting various types of animals, from both land and sea, in their respective harvesting seasons. There is a sense of anticipation as he gets close to the seal. The hard stone magically displays how soft the belly of the seal must feel. Enchanted, my mind goes to what the artist might have thought during the creation of the sculpture. Was he the hunter focused on his task? Or was he the hunter’s companion, learning and observing as a young hunter in training? This practice that is passed down from generation to generation accomplished a forever reminder of Inuit self sustainability. 


This series was made possible with the generous support of the TD Ready Commitment.

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