Nunavut artists use their voices at Iqaluit spoken word event
"There are so many Nunavummiut who are storytellers"
If the term “spoken word” conjures up images of dimly-lit basement bars, think again.
This past weekend in Iqaluit, elders, parents and teenagers gathered in a college classroom to share their stories — some of them modern and rhythmic, while others were many generations old.
The Qaggiavuut Society for a Nunavut Performing Arts Centre hosted the territory’s first-ever spoken word event, called Ukiuqtaqturmiut Anirnirit, Feb. 28 to March 2.
The organization invited a duo of performing artists from Montreal to lead a group workshop on how to develop one’s artistic voice.
“Inuit have always used spoken word, as oral historians,” said Qaggiavuut’s Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory. “It’s not so much that we’re introducing Inuit storytelling to spoken word as we’re encouraging a form of contemporary storytelling.”
“There are so many Nunavummiut who are storytellers, and so many people who spend their evenings writing poetry,” she added.
Elder Lasaloosie Ishulutak took part; he sang and talked about a lullaby he has always used to lull seal pups while he is hunting on the sea ice.
Another elder, Elisapie Ootoova, sang Quviasuliqpunga, a song about light coming back to the Arctic.
Her performance of the traditional song was accompanied by throatsinging and beat boxing.
Later on, a 13-year-old rapped in Inuktitut and English.
And another adult participant got up and “busted some rhymes” for the first time in 10 years.
That all culminated in a free public performance put on at Inuksuk high school March 2.
“Everyone who took part was so grounded and inspired to do more,” Williamson Bathory said. “So we’ll see where this goes next.”
Qaggiavuut works to encourage Nunavut’s performing artists, but the society’s main goal is to see an arts centre built in Nunavut to host this kind of workshop and performance.
“When we have these kinds of events, we make due with moving nursing students’ equipment around to make space,” said Williamson Bathory of the Nunavut Arctic College classroom where the spoken word workshops were held.
“We do incredible things because Nunavummiut are able to create amazing things with these environments,” she said. “But it always a reminder that we don’t have our own space.”
Although the group has yet to secure full support or funding to realize its goal, Williamson Bathory said they have made positive steps.
Arctic Adaptations is Canada’s entry to this year’s Venice Biennale architectural showcase.
One of the designs includes an arts centre, designed by architecture students from Dalhousie University, which sits on the breakwater that separates Iqaluit’s beach from Frobisher Bay.
More recently, the Qikiqtaaluk Corp. has flagged Inuit-owned land in Iqaluit for the construction of such a facility.
“This has also been our dream, but it’s also the dream of other organizations now too,” she said.
Ôhohm, a duo made up of musicians Moe Clark and Andrew Bathory, came to Iqaluit to facilitate the spoken word summit.
Bathory (Williamson-Bathory’s brother-in-law) said he witnessed plenty of unique talent over the weekend and finds it hard to believe Nunavut’s artists don’t have their own stage.
“It really blows our minds… to see that amount of creativity those artists show when they have to space to create in,” he said.