Iqaluit’s young artists embrace Nunavut’s arts community
"I’d never really done anything like that — working together with all those creative minds"
“Community makes art, and arts makes a community,” muses Jonathan Pitseolak.
After a conversation with the 14-year-old budding hip hop artist from Pond Inlet — now based in Iqaluit — those are the words that linger.
Because Pitseolak isn’t just the future generation of Nunavut’s arts community; he and that community are already one and the same.
Pitseolak discovered a love of words and rhyme when he had just barely hit double digits, and kept writing with the encouragement of friends.
At first, he idolized American rapper Eminem, whose stories Pitseolak found mirrored his own life.
But gradually, Pitseolak’s own surroundings became the spark behind his lyrics.
“We rapped a lot about Pond Inlet, things like hunting and how we used to live in the past,” said Pitseolak, now a student at Inuksuk high school.
One of the lines from Pitseolak’s catchy track Mittimatalik — co-produced with a former teacher from Pond Inlet — goes “When I’m on the land/ with a rifle in my hand/there’s no place I’d rather be.”
But any land is barren without its people, he admits.
Pitseolak, like too many Nunavummiut, has experienced painful loss, including the death of both his parents.
The titles of some of his other tracks tell as much: “So alone,” and “I’m down.”
But Pitseolak’s work helped pushed him into a new community. He calls himself the newest “adopted” member of Qaggiavuut, a collective of Iqaluit-based artists working towards the creation of Nunavut’s first performing arts centre.
And he took part in the group’s spoken word summit called Arctic Breath last month, where he found himself performing in front of other Nunavummiut artists and storytellers, some more than four times his age.
“But I felt like I had lots of ideas, so I didn’t feel like the youngest,” Pitseolak said. “It actually really taught me confidence and to be more mature (as an artist.)”
Pitseolak wasn’t alone; he also found a common ground with fellow artist Tuqqaasi Nuqingaq, 15, who read her poetry at the summit.
“It was the first time I ever performed in front of people — ever,” Nuqingaq said. “It was a bit nerve-wracking. I’d never really done anything like that — working together with all those creative minds.”
Nuqingaq also starting writing young to deal with loss in her life. And, like Pitseolak, she found solace in “home,” which is the name of the piece she read to the Arctic Breathe summit.
Your body / My friend
Is not a condemned house
Is not a disaster
You are not defined by (the) rust in your eyes
(The) Chips in your skin
Nor are you defined
By what people see in your face
Because inside / You are more
You are home / My friend
You are home.
Nuqingaq, also a singer, says she isn’t quite sure how being an Inuk in Nunavut influences her work, although she knows it’s instantly woven into everything she creates.
“It might be different because I think [Nunavummiut artists] have a broader understanding of all the arts,” she said.
But both Nuqingaq and Pitseolak agree they’d like to see more opportunities to create — more funding for young artists, more summits like Arctic Breath and ideally, a performance centre.