drawing of writer artist with knife and harpoon

Alootook Ipellie: Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border

January 16 to February 23, 2019

Gallery discussion with curators Sandra Dyck and Christine Lalonde, with gallery reception to follow, Monday, February 4 at 7:00pm

There is no one quite like Alootook Ipellie (1951–2007), an Inuk artist from Canada. Born at Nuvuqquq on Baffin Island and raised in Iqaluit, Ipellie moved to Ottawa in the late 1960s to attend high school. Over the next four decades, mostly spent in Ottawa, he worked as an artist, writer, cartoonist, editor, illustrator, and journalist. This first retrospective of Ipellie’s work draws from the many facets of his exceptional career.

drawing of man standing before "Northern Oil Fields"
Northern Oil Fields (n.d.); ink on paper
SLU 2001.19

Ipellie’s diverse and prodigious body of work is defined, at its heart, by his lifelong struggle to reconcile the two worlds in which he lived. “I did not ask to be born an Inuk, nor did I ask to be forced to learn an alien culture with an alien language,” he wrote in the remarkable poem “Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border.” Everyday survival on this border, he said, sometimes required “fancy dancing.”

Alootook Ipellie once joked that he had a “Ph.D. in Silentology,” but his work was not quiet, nor was it created at an emotional remove. He identified his “tools of operation” as “the power of the written word and the spilling of India ink on illustration board.” His job, he said, was to “interpret the imagination.”

With great wit, passion, and sensitivity, Ipellie gave voice to significant issues affecting Inuit Nunangat. His work feels prescient because it addresses topics that are still urgent, such as political sovereignty, climate change, resource extraction, and the ongoing impact of colonization.

Alootook Ipellie’s work was disseminated widely in magazines like Inuit Monthly, Inuit Today, and Nunatsiaq News, and in books including Paper Stays Put (1980) and the extraordinary Arctic Dreams and Nightmares (1993). But he never found a place in the “so-called Inuit Art World,” as he described it, working outside the co-op system and without the benefit of an art dealer. He nonetheless considered himself fortunate to spend his days writing and drawing. As Ipellie said, “We humans have to wonder how the world may have turned out if it weren’t blessed with the creativity of its artists.” - Sandra Dyck, Heather Igloliorte, and Christine Lalonde, exhibition curators

St. Lawrence University has acquired and exhibited the work of Inuit artists for the purpose of teaching and research in the liberal arts since the early 1990s. In 2001, the University presented a two-week festival of the arts, From Nanook to Nunavut: The Art and Politics of Representing Inuit Culture, co-organized by Catherine Shrady and Catherine Tedford. As part of the festival, Alootook Ipellie exhibited a selection of political and satirical cartoons and came to campus to give a reading. The Richard F. Brush Art Gallery subsequently purchased 13 of his drawings from the exhibition for the University’s permanent collection, ten of which are included in Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border.

In 2010, works by Inuit artists from St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection were featured in an exhibition entitled Nipirasait: Many Voices at the Embassy of Canadian in Washington, DC. University-sponsored Inuit art exhibitions organized by the Richard F. Brush Art Gallery have also been presented at the College of Wooster Art Museum in Ohio and the Huntington Museum of Art in West Virginia.

Walking Both Sides of an Invisible Border was produced by the Carleton University Art Gallery, Ottawa, Ontario, where it premiered in the fall of 2018. After its display at St. Lawrence, the show will travel to art galleries and museums in Nunavut, Ontario, and Manitoba.

To view drawings by Alootook Ipellie and works by other Inuit artists in St. Lawrence University’s permanent collection, visit http://digitalcollections.stlawu.edu/collections/inuit-art.