(Cape Dorset. Photo courtesy of Raven Makes Gallery)
Cape Dorset, Fine Art from Far North
One of the consequences that World War II had upon human civilization was hastening the final intrusion of the Modern Western World’s culture to the last unscathed places on Earth. Every community on Earth would be exposed to the good and bad this offered; previously isolated areas were powerfully impacted.
Today, of course, we refer to this ongoing transformation with the simple term globalization. That concept begins to explain how a remote Inuit village, along an island coast in the Arctic Ocean, has become the most artist-oriented community in Canada.
Twenty-two percentage of Kinngait residents on Baffin Island are either sculptors, print makers or two-dimensional artists, which is further surprising considering that 75 years ago, there were none. Even into the early 1950s, people survived by subsistence hunting, fishing and gathering as they had for centuries, along with the recent and rather modest arrival of government supplied commodities and materials.
That lifestyle was especially impacted in the mid-50s when the Canadian government and one individual in particular, James Houston, introduced to the Inuit People the notion that this far flung community might want to consider attempting artist endeavors as a means of developing very basic economic opportunities.
Seven years after accepting the challenge, the West Baffin Island Artist Co-Operative, better known as Cape Dorset, was renown throughout the art world, had become the genesis for the town’s economic salvation and began dispatching community members to never imagined destinations across North America and Europe.
Movers and shakers of the Western Art World of the late ‘50s deemed the Inuit works the most purely natural art phenomena to have occurred anywhere during the last 100 years. The Primitive and Naïve Art Movements, influenced by Organic Abstraction, were in their heyday and these Arctic Peoples’ works were truly authentic, reflecting an evolutionary process and deeply authentic artistic creativity. Inuit art stood beyond Western interpretations and definitions of what primitive or surreal art might be.
The Inuit People of Baffin Island did not study Western art concepts before undertaking their craft. Their perspectives about ‘how things look’ came from their centuries old understanding about life and living it—being part of the natural order, including a deep connection with the birds and mammals. The images in their prints demonstrate natural perspectives and intimate visions about the Far North, which environmentally speaking can be described as primitive and barren due to the vast, austere expanses.
The Co-Operative’s elected members manage all artworks and the rights to them. Proceeds raised go to Kinngait Studios and the community at large, rather than the artist receiving money, per se. Works are completed at Baffin Island and then flown 1,500 miles south to Toronto.
This year, the annual Cape Dorset print collection goes on sale Saturday, October 21, along with newly released sculptures. In Oregon, Raven Makes Gallery in Sisters will be holding a Cape Dorset reception from 1-6pm. In-person phone orders will be welcome the morning of the October 21.
Raven Makes Gallery, 182 E Hood Avenue, Sisters