Development of Art in Nunavut

For decades, Inuit art has been famous for its exquisite carvings of stone, antler and bone, and to a lesser extent, print making. While carving and printmaking are still a major part in Nunavut art, Inuit arts and crafts today include a wide range of personal and regional styles including fibre arts, jewellery, ceramics and painting.

Inuit art grew out of the skills the Inuit developed to survive in Nunavut's unforgiving climate. The need to fashion spear points, develop quiliq (oil lamps) and small implements lead to the knowledge and skills needed to be great carvers. The need for metal working lead to jewellery; the need to clothe a family lead to fibre arts; the need to store food lead to ceramics; and the desire to make everyday objects beautiful lead to printmaking skills and to the development of Inuit art.

Carving skills were used for more than just survival. Intricate carvings sometimes told stories and legends that, if not passed down orally, might have been lost. Today, Inuit artists, freed from the need to produce functional items first and foremost, draw on and explore the rich collection of Inuit myths, legends and spiritual beliefs even more heavily. More recently, artists have found the arts to be a means to address the social changes that Inuit society continues to undergo.

As for the future of Inuit art, we can probably expect to see a continued exploration of the rapid social changes, challenges and opportunities that Inuit continue to experience. We may see the development of new media that draws on both traditional Inuit skills and new technologies. At the same time, however, more traditional themes might play a part in reflecting and supporting the move among many Inuit to keep young people connected to traditional themes and to the land.

Learn more about the history of the major styles of Inuit art:

Carvings   |   Prints |   Fibre Arts
Jewellery   |   Ceramics   |   Painting