Qupiqrualuk, Aisa

Carver, storyteller and preacher born in Puvirnituq (Nunavik) in 1916 – died in Puvirnituq (Nunavik) in 2004.

Aisa Qupiqrualuk was born on the site of today’s Puvirnituq, Nunavik in 1916. He was known by many names: Aisa, Isa, Isah as his first name – often Aisa Alasua – and Qoperqalu, Quoperqualu, Koperqualuk, Qupirualu, Qupirrualuk or Qupiruala as his surname. The son of Qiluqqi, he was the eldest child of four siblings: Alasie Alasuaq, Paulusie Sivuaq, Nellie Nungaq (or Nungak) and Annie Amaamattuaq. Aisa Qupiqrualuk was baptised when he was three months old and studied in Cape Dorset (today’s Kinngait), a village located on Dorset Island, near Foxe Peninsula, in today’s Nunavut, where the Anglican Church managed a religious school for Inuit children. Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s life path led him from stone carving to the Anglican ministry, with a constant guiding principle: the defence and promotion of Inuit interests and culture.

In 1950, Aisa Qupiqrualuk was encouraged by the Canadian artist and filmmaker James Archibald Houston, “Saumik” by his Inuit name, to develop carving skills: he sold his works to private collectors with the help of the Hudson’s Bay Company and Canadian Handicraft Guild. James Archibald Houston was commissioned by the latter to assess the quality of Inuit artworks. In 1957, Aisa Qupiqrualuk travelled to Ottawa, Montréal, Toronto and even Pittsburgh, USA with his work, as well as the work of other Puvirnituq carvers, respected and recognised by the art market of the South. Aisa Qupiqrualuk participated in Puvirnituq’s first experimental graphic workshop in 1961, creating drawings and stencil portraits with scenes inspired by Inuit myths and legends. Several were printed in 1961 and are  displayed at the Musée de la civilisation (Québec City), or found in private collections and art galleries, such as the New-Yorker art gallery “Alaska on Madison” in the USA. Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s primary artistic medium was stone carving. In 1960, he participated in the founding of the Puvirnituq Cooperative and was a member of its first board of directors with Charlie Sivuarapik (also known as Saali E9-1460 Arngaituk), Peter Agutigirk, Paulusie Sivuak, Taania Qumaq Angiyou and Tamusi Tulugak. The Puvirnituq Cooperative drew its start-up funding from the sale of its carvings’ sale proceeds. During the 1950s and 1960s, Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s carvings, became more refined as he mastered his artistic skills. His artwork is currently displayed in exhibitions across Canada and is part of the permanent  collections of the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Canadian Museum of History, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Montréal Museum of Fine Arts. Reproductions of Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s carvings have been published in two art catalogues by the Winnipeg Art Gallery: The Povungnituk Paradox: Typically Untypical Art (1977) by George Swinton and Early Masters – Inuit Sculpture 1949-1955 (2006) by Darlene Coward Wight. His work is also included in Art Nunavik: Sculpting Techniques (2012) edited by the Federation of Cooperatives of New Québec, as well as Carol Ann Prokop’s art history Master’s thesis, Written in Stone. A Comparative Analysis of Sedna and the Moon Spirit as depicted in Contemporary Inuit Sculptures and Graphics (1990).

Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s carvings were strongly inspired by his knowledge of Inuit tales. These two dimensions of his artistic production came together in Zebedee Nungak and Eugene Arima’s bilingual collection of tales (English, French) Inuit stories. Légendes inuit. Povungnituk (1992). The precursors of this work (first published in 1988) were two bilingual editions: one Inuktitut and English, Unikkaatuat sanaugarngnik atyingualiit Puvirngniturngmit. Eskimo Stories from Povungnituk, Quebec (1969), and  one Inuktitut and French, Unikkaatuat sanaugarngnik atyingualiit Puvirngniturngmit. Légendes inuit de Povungnituk, Québec (1975). In the 1988 edition, there are three tales written by Aisa Qupiqrualuk E9-801 (E9-801 is his disc number), with images of his own carvings, “Sikuliasuituq”, “Lumaaq and  Nauyalu kutyaunalu: The seagull and the kutyaunaq” and “Lumaaq”. These tales  were recorded and translated from Inuktitut to French by anthropologist Bernard Saladin d’Anglure. “Lumaaq”(also included in the 1969 edition) tells the story of a blind man who shot a bear, and whose mother confiscated it and left him alone in his igloo without any food. He took his revenge during a fishing trip. Aisa Qupiqrualuk authored another tale, “The Sedna myth”, inspired by Sedna, the Inuit sea goddess and this tale was recorded by American anthropologist Edward Moffatt Weyer and published in William Herbert New’s anthology Canadian Short Fiction: From Myth to Modern (1986).

Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s career as a carver ended in the 1960s in favour of the Anglican ministry. Being willing to lead and serve his people, in his community as well as in other communities, he became one of the few Nunavimmiut ordained by the Anglican Church around 1965, travelling to the villages of Kuujjuaq, Kuujjuarapik and Kangirsuk across Nunavik. He noticed a decrease in Inuit cultural and artistic traditions, specifically the tradition of throat-song (katadjait), which had disappeared from the Puvirnituq region since the 1930s. He encouraged the women of Puvirnituq to relearn this tradition, and their efforts resulted in the album Inuit Throat and Harp Songs. Eskimo Women’s Music of Povungnituk. Chants inuit - Gorge et guimbarde. Musique des Esquimaudes de Povungnituk which was recorded in the early 1970s. Nellie Nungak, Aisa Qupiqrualuk’s sister, was one of the throat-singers, alongside Alasi Alasuak, Lucy Amarualik, Mary Sivuarapik and Alaci Tulaugak. Aisa Qupiqrualuk and Nellie Nungak were not alone among their siblings fighting for Inuit interests and traditions. Their brother Paulusie Sivuaq was a member of Inuit Tungavingat Nunamini, a political Inuit association that opposed the terms of the James Bay and Northern Quebec Agreement in the 1970s.

Since the 1980s, Aisa Qupiqrualuk was a well-respected elder in his community, involved in the activities of the Avataq Cultural Institute (founded in 1980) and one of the preferred interlocutors of anthropologists such as Frédéric Laugrand. He often made a stand on the Inuit community’s rights to own their cultural remains and artifacts, being excavated in archeological sites. Aisa Qupiqrualuk died in 2004. He remains an inspiration and a role model for his granddaughter, Lisa Qiluqqi Koperqualuk, who he and his spouse Lydia raised in the 1960s and who roamed Nunavik with him as a child.

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.