Sufjan Stevens | Pitseolak Ashoona

Song: "Mystery of Love" - Sufjan Stevens (2018)

Art: "Family Sleeping in Tent" - Pitseolak Ashoona (1976)

Everyone knows “Eskimos” and everyone has pretty much the same mental images associated with them: igloos, parkas with big furry hoods, sleds pulled by pretty white huskies. Of course, there is much more to Eskimos than these cutesy stereotypes. A good place to start is their name - “Eskimo” is largely considered to be a pejorative term, an invention of ethnic Europeans. The Inuit people, as they prefer to be called, are a collection of culturally related peoples that have inhabited the frighteningly harsh lands and seas of the Arctic for over 1000 years. They were nomadic seafaring people, the inventors of the kayak. Migrating with the seasons from island to island they lived in igloos during the long winter months and in tents made of animal skin in the “summer,” AKA the few months of the year when temperatures rose above freezing. Their movements were contained almost exclusively to those lands north of ‘the Arctic treeline’ where conditions are so harsh that leafy vegetatation cannot survive. Like other indigenous North Americans, the Inuit are a communal people, sharing resources across family units. But contrary to this reality, there was a widely held belief among disapproving Europeans that the Inuit practiced infanticide - killing their young who became a liability in the harsh conditions due to disability or other limitations. Much Inuit hate can be boiled down to this fundamental idea - these crazy people are hardened to the point of wild inhumanity from the brutal environment they inhabit. In the 1980’s, scientists made an important discovery in Alaska that flew in the face of this claim: the body of a 9 year old Inuit girl who clearly possessed a congenital defect that prevented her from walking. The body was dated to 1200 CE. Traditionally, the Inuit practice a form of animism - the belief that all objects, living and inanimate are inhabited by souls. This is an intense spiritual disposition. For its practitioners, all bits of the world are alive and important, to be cooperated with and not dominated. All weather and animal activity, things they were dependent upon for survival, were subject to the activity of supernatural souls. They had a deep respect for the cosmic balance of the vast multitudes of souls inhabiting earthly objects. Living in a frozen, unrelenting environment that they had no hope of dominating, their ideology was one of great wonder and reverence for the world around around them. Pitseolak Ashoona, famed Inuit artist depicts the beautiful and timeless parts of her ancient culture with a traditional style. Her work is simple and powerful. Here she gives us the warmth of a bundled up family taking refuge in an igloo from the deadly cold outside.