ᔭᓇ ᐃᓇ

Carver, hunter and storyteller born in Kuujjuarapik (Nunavik) in 1911 – died in Inukjuak (Nunavik) in 2007.

Johnny Inukpuk was born in 1911 in Kuujjuarapik, a village located on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay, in Nunavik. He grew up lulled by the stories of his father Juani Inukpuaq's past life in Itivik, in the Ungava Bay region. He spent his youth in Tasiujaq, near Kuujjuarapik, where he lived close to the Cree. Kuujjuarapik, although mostly populated by Inuit, actually borders the Cree village of Whapmagoostui. Johnny Inukpuk primarily hunted lemmings, arctic foxes, walruses and polar bears and he earned his living by selling fox skins, duck eggs and geese. His talents as a hunter and trapper earned him a job as camp leader in the 1940s.

Johnny Inukpuk is today considered one of the finest Inuit sculptor’s of his generation, however, he didn’t turn to sculpture by vocation, but as a means of employment in order to provide for his family. He traded his carvings, notably with the members of the British postal ship, the RMS Nascopie before the latter was wrecked near Cape Dorset (nowadays Kinngait), south of Baffin Island in 1947. He sold his sculptures first on his own and then through the cooperatives. When he settled in Inukjuak in the 1950s, he was strongly encouraged in his carving by the artist, author and filmmaker James Houston, known among the Inuit as "Saumik" ("The Lefty"), who promoted Inuit craftsmanship and entrepreneurship as a means to independence. Recognition of Johnny Inukpuk's art, which was essentially inspired by daily life and the practice of hunting, came quickly. As early as 1951, the TD Bank Financial Group acquired his sculpture, Hunter (1951). In 1953, his works were part of the "Eskimo Carvings" exhibition presented at the Fils Gallery in London, England. In the following decades, his work entered the collections of a dozen major institutions, such as the Glenbow Museum (Calgary) and the Hudson Bay House (Winnipeg), and was the subject of several temporary exhibitions. Several published catalogues contain his artwork: Johnny Inukpuk R. C. A.: exposition. Johnny Inukpuk R. C. A.: exhibition (1987), the exhibition catalogue from the Galerie Le Chariot (Montréal), and Inuit 1993: Contemporary Inuit art from the Canadian Museum of Civilization. L'art inuit contemporain au Musée canadien des civilisations (1993). Johnny Inukpuk was elected a member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 1978.

Johnny Inukpuk also had a taste for storytelling. He first expressed a hunting anecdote through the visual arts, using his one and only engraving, entitled A true story of Johnny being attacked by three polar bears while in his igloo (1974). He also authored two publications : « Tongak : créature mythique aux yeux de lynx », published in La pierre raconte : Sculptures de stéatite du Nouveau-Québec et du Kenya. Stories in Stone: Soapstone Sculptures from Northern Québec and Kenya (1988) and « Voyage à Itivik en traîneau à chiens. A Dogteam Trip in Itivik », an anecdote inherited from his father, published in Tumivut magazine in 1995. He also composed music and sang with Inuit musician Charlie Adams, contributing to the latter's album Inuit Songs Composed and Sung by Charlie Adams of Inoucdjouac Québec, produced in the 1970s.

Johnny Inukpuk's artistic versatility and hunting skills earned him the esteem of his community. He appeared in the film Inuuvunga - Je suis Inuk. Je suis vivant. Inuuvunga - I am Inuk, I am alive (2004) produced by the National Film Board of Canada.

Johnny Inukpuk depicts his wife Mary’s harelip in all his sculptures of containing women. They are the parents of two sculptors, Charlie and Daniel. The works of both father and sons are featured in the exhibition "Tumivut, Traces of our Footsteps", organized in Montreal in 2001 by the Avataq Cultural Institute.

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 imaginairedunord@uqam.ca 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.