Arnaktauyok, Germaine

Visual artist and author born in Maniitsoq (Greenland) in 1946.

Germaine Arnaktauyok was born in 1946 in Maniitsoq (Greenland) and moved to an Inuit camp near Igloolik, Nunavut at a young age. During her childhood, her family practiced the traditional way of life. Her parents, Thérèse Nattok and Isidore Iytok, were carvers and had eight children; Germaine was the third. Just before the age of ten, she was sent to residential school in Chesterfield Inlet, Nunavut, where she had to stay for seven years, returning home only in the summer. An employee of the school recognized her artistic talent and gave her lessons which improved her skill and resulted in the sale of her first work at the age of eleven. In 1976, Germaine Arnaktauyok married and gave birth to her daughter Amber. For ten years, the family lived in Langley, British Columbia. After a divorce in 1989, Germaine Arnaktauyok moved to Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

From an early age, Germaine Arnatktauyok was attracted to drawing. In an interview with the Canada Council for the Arts in 2020, she said, "When I was a child, it seemed natural for me to make art. I can remember drawing on gum wrappers and any bits and pieces of paper I could find … I never questioned being an artist''. In the 1960s, she studied art in Winnipeg (Manitoba) and Ottawa (Ontario). From 1969 to 1974, she worked in Iqaluit, (Nunavut) at the Frobisher Bay Arts and Crafts Centre and after a move to Yellowknife (N.W.T.), she was hired by the Department of Education to illustrate books and learning materials. After pausing her work in 1976 to concentrate on family life; in 1989, she returned to Yellowknife (N.W.T.) and resumed her artistic career.

Germaine Arnaktauyok is an acclaimed and prolific visual artist in Canada. She draws, engraves, lithographs, and silk-screens. Many of her works are preserved and exhibited in museums such as the National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa) and the British Museum (London, UK). Germaine Arnaktauyok finds inspiration in Inuit myths and legends. As a child, her grandfather often told her traditional stories, and she studied the myths and legends of her region from the works of Greenlandic explorer and anthropologist Knud Rassmussen (1879-1933).

In the 1970s, she participated in the development of two Inuit animated films directed by Co Hoedman: The Owl and the Lemming: An Eskimo Legend (1971) for which she designed the puppets and set, and The Owl and the Raven: An Eskimo Legend (1973) for which she created the puppets along with Alootook Ipellie, a Nunavummiut illustrator and author, who created the set.

In the literary world, Germaine Arnaktauyok is best known for her work as a book illustrator. She has illustrated several children's books such as Tuniit (2017) by Rebecca Hainnu and Those That Cause Fear (2016) by Neil Christopher. She has also illustrated more than a dozen books for adults such as The Harpoon of the Hunter (1970) by Markoosie, ᑕᑲᓐᓈᓗᒃ, Takananaluk (2018) by Herve Panic, and Unikkaaktuat: An Introduction to Inuits Myths and Legends by Neil Christopher, Noel McDermott and Louise Flaherty. In 2020, this book was the basis for a multidisciplinary production entitled Unikkaaktuat which toured in several Canadian cities. Directly inspired by Germaine Arnaktauyok's illustrations, she also participated as a consultant and illustrator and assisted with the staging. In 2015, she co-authored with Gyu Ho, My Name is Arnaktauyok: The Life and Art of Germaine Arnaktauyok, which contains the story of her life, artistic commentary on her creations as well as about 100 of her illustrations.

In 1999, Germaine Arnaktauyok's silkscreen print entitled The Drummer was selected by the Royal Canadian Mint for the creation of a two-dollar coin in honour of the founding of Nunavut. The following year, in 2000, the artist designed a hundred-dollar bill as part of the Aboriginal Cultures and Traditions series.

For her overall work, Germaine Arnaktauyok was awarded the Governor General's award in visual and media arts by the Canada Council for the Arts in February 2021. The Council states that "Arnaktauyok's rich and beautifully colored drawings depict a kaleidoscope of her heritage, ranging from astronomy to mythology to the philosophy of forgotten times."

Today, Germaine Arnaktauyok continues to create art and lives in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories.

This biography is based on the available written material during a collective research carried out during 2018-2021. It is possible that mistakes and facts need to be corrected. If you notice an error, or if you wish to correct something in an author's biography, please write to us at and we will be happy to do so. This is how we will be able to have more precise presentations, and to better promote Inuit culture.

(c) International Laboratory for Research on Images of the North, Winter and the Arctic, Université du Québec à Montréal, 2018-2021, Daniel Chartier and al.