ART via MUSIC

Aimee Mann | Napachi Pootoogook

Song: Aimee Man - “Goose Snow Cone” (2017)

Art: Napachi Pootoogook - “Alcohol” (1994)



Pitseolak Ashoona, Napochie Pootoogook, and Annie Pootoogook represent three successive 20th-century generations of an extraordinarily talented, artistically inclined Inuit family. This grandmother, mother, and daughter trio each portrayed their oft-forgotten culture in their own distinct, impactful way. Pitseolak, the matriarch, was traditional and idealistic. Her art was almost symbolic, like advanced hieroglyphics. Her daughter, Napochie provided an intense, dark, and disturbing dose of reality. Napochie’s work portrayed her people at their lowest: trading women to European sailors for supplies, eating the bodies of relatives in times of famine, and succumbing to alcoholism. She acted in response to her mother, counteracting her idealism to provide a more well-rounded and realistic depiction of the lives of 20th century Intuits. If Pitseolak shows us the angel on the Inuit’s shoulder and Napochie the devil, Annie gives us a peek at the vast middle ground: amoral mundanity. Of course, most of life is spent in moments not of glorious, transcendent bliss or twisted despair. Annie sought to promote a relatable picture of what it was like to be an Inuit in the modern world. In this way, Annie’s work is like Seinfeld - the drawings about nothing. Despite their apparent lack of meaning or depth, they provide visceral depictions of the lives of typical Inuits on typical days - a child sits on the floor to watch the Simpsons, a family sleeps in a tent, a woman lights her friend’s cigarette. Annie’s work is not particularly emotional but it carries with it a very powerful message: the Inuit are people too. Annie is well known, the most famous of the three, but her work has not always been viewed in the context of her predecessors. Andrea Hanley - the curator of SMOCA’s recent exhibition featuring six works by each woman - was struck by the emergent narrative when the women’s art is viewed side by side. She describes the experience of taking in the works at once as akin to being in the presence of a “conversation between these women.” The progression of the family's styles and tendencies tells an interesting and familiar story of self-consciousness. In so many cultures and civilizations throughout human history we see this play out. First, there is a bursting pride and desire to idealize and tell a mythological, storybook version of history, traditions, and spirituality. Then, critics and skeptics rise courageously and tear down the old fairy tales with brutal realism in the interest of shedding light on the injustices that mythology can so easily cover up. Finally, people grow tired of this stressful business of striking the right balance between realism and pride and give up morality all together. Instead, they make art, tell stories, and sing songs “about nothing,” perhaps sometimes in an effort to arouse empathy but never with some grand, hidden meaning. Through only one of these perspectives, the perception of culture is warped. No people or time period is all good, all bad, or all boring. Really, all three versions of representation are ideal. Through consideration of the work of Pitseolak, Napochie, and Annie, you get a well rounded sense of the Inuit people, of their spiritual, beautiful ideals, their ugly deranged lows, and their actual, relatable lives.

Pitseolak Ashoona, Napochie Pootoogook, and Annie Pootoogook represent three successive 20th-century generations of an extraordinarily talented, artistically inclined Inuit family. This grandmother, mother, and daughter trio each portrayed their oft-forgotten culture in their own distinct, impactful way. Pitseolak, the matriarch, was traditional and idealistic. Her art was almost symbolic, like advanced hieroglyphics. Her daughter, Napochie provided an intense, dark, and disturbing dose of reality. Napochie’s work portrayed her people at their lowest: trading women to European sailors for supplies, eating the bodies of relatives in times of famine, and succumbing to alcoholism. She acted in response to her mother, counteracting her idealism to provide a more well-rounded and realistic depiction of the lives of 20th century Intuits. If Pitseolak shows us the angel on the Inuit’s shoulder and Napochie the devil, Annie gives us a peek at the vast middle ground: amoral mundanity. Of course, most of life is spent in moments not of glorious, transcendent bliss or twisted despair. Annie sought to promote a relatable picture of what it was like to be an Inuit in the modern world. In this way, Annie’s work is like Seinfeld - the drawings about nothing. Despite their apparent lack of meaning or depth, they provide visceral depictions of the lives of typical Inuits on typical days - a child sits on the floor to watch the Simpsons, a family sleeps in a tent, a woman lights her friend’s cigarette. Annie’s work is not particularly emotional but it carries with it a very powerful message: the Inuit are people too. Annie is well known, the most famous of the three, but her work has not always been viewed in the context of her predecessors. Andrea Hanley - the curator of SMOCA’s recent exhibition featuring six works by each woman - was struck by the emergent narrative when the women’s art is viewed side by side. She describes the experience of taking in the works at once as akin to being in the presence of a “conversation between these women.” The progression of the family's styles and tendencies tells an interesting and familiar story of self-consciousness. In so many cultures and civilizations throughout human history we see this play out. 
 First, there is a bursting pride and desire to idealize and tell a mythological, storybook version of history, traditions, and spirituality. Then, critics and skeptics rise courageously and tear down the old fairy tales with brutal realism in the interest of shedding light on the injustices that mythology can so easily cover up. Finally, people grow tired of this stressful business of striking the right balance between realism and pride and give up morality all together. Instead, they make art, tell stories, and sing songs “about nothing,” perhaps sometimes in an effort to arouse empathy but never with some grand, hidden meaning. Through only one of these perspectives, the perception of culture is warped. No people or time period is all good, all bad, or all boring. Really, all three versions of representation are ideal. Through consideration of the work of Pitseolak, Napochie, and Annie, you get a well rounded sense of the Inuit people, of their spiritual, beautiful ideals, their ugly deranged lows, and their actual, relatable lives.

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