Nunavut Edition Headline News

July 16, 1998

Community group sponsors public art in Nunavut's capital

Paid for with donations from Iqaluit businesses and organizations, Iqaluit artist Craig Clark's giant murals have changed the look of Iqaluit.

Nunatsiaq News
Iqaluit artist Craig Clark says a few words about Baker Lake artist Jessie Oonark during the unveiling of his murals in Iqaluit on Nunavut Day.

IQALUIT - A striking mural on the wall of Iqaluit Mayor Jimmy "Flash" Kilabuk's house is changing the way Iqaluit looks and, maybe, how its residents feel about art and their community.

"I hope that people stop and look and think about it," said artist Craig Clark. "It would be nice if it inspired people to start looking at local history."

The three huge panels - eight feet by seven and half feet - feature Clark's protraits of Baker Lake artist Jessie Oonark, Pond Inlet's priest, Father Guy-Marie Rousellière, and community leader Abe Okpik.

Clark himself suggested the choice of Jessie Oonark for one of the panels.

Recalling Oonark's words, "Do not be afraid of my drawings, they're only my dreams," Clark said that her art was an inspiration to him even before he came to the North,

Works by Oonark, who died in 1985, are included in many museum collections and were also presented to Queen Elizabeth and Pope John Paul.

A year of work

Clark spent more than a year on the panels, finishing up the last one only two weeks ago. Because of their size, he was able to paint just half of each one at a time, using his sealift room as a studio.

Working in black and white acrylic paints, which he applied with airbrushes, sponges, a tooth brush and even his fingers, Clark tried to capture an inner spirit in his likenesses.

He was guided by photos of his three subjects, but said that the resulting paintings are not exact copies.

"You bring out what the people were like," he said. "But I didn't see them until everyone else did."

The mural was officially unveiled on Nunavut Day.

"Flash" Kilabuk said he's pleased with his dwelling's new decoration and that it honors his old friend, Abe Okpik.

Okpik, who died in 1997, was active in getting relief to Inuit in the 1950s and 60s. He also worked on Project Surname, which brought names, instead of disc numbers, to Inuit in the eastern Arctic.

"He did a lot for our community even when he didn't feel well," said Kilabuk.

The choice of Ataata Marie also seemed fitting to Dorothee Komangapik, curator of the Nunatta Sunakuutaangit Museum in Iqaluit.

Komangapik became acquainted with the Catholic priest in Pond Inlet because he was a close friend of her father's.

"White people rarely knew him," said Komangapik. "But I knew him quite well. He was like a grandfather to me."

Kompangapik said that Father Marie spoke better Inuktitut than many of the community's elders. "He devoted his life to learning about Inuktitut and Inuit," she said.

Father Marie died in a fire in 1994.

The three subjects for the mural were not chosen through any organized process. The local volunteer committee behind the mural didn't receive any public money, either, apart from Iqaluit's municipal contribution.

Many donors

"We didn't answer to anyone," said Larry Simpson. "We're kind of proud of it."

Simpson, a territorial government employee and long-time resident of Iqaluit, said that private and corporate donors funded the project.

"We told them that a mural would catch the character of the place and celebrate all of Nunavut," he said.

Simpson and other committee members spent two years fundraising and organizing the mural's placement.

"It's been a draining experience," he said. "Some people thought I was nuts. 'Why do you persist with this mural?' they'd ask."

So far, the feedback about the mural has been positive, according to Simpson and Clark.

But Clark, who has worked on several indoor murals in Iqaluit, would like to see more outdoor art around the community.

"People are paranoid about vandalism," he said. "They say, 'We'd like the town to look nice, but we're afraid to do it'."