Alec Aliknak Banksland

Alec Peter Aliknak Banksland was a carver and printmaker, born in Utkraluk (Baillie Island), NT. From an artistic family, his sister is noted graphic artist Agnes Nanogak Goose (1925-2001). Banksland moved to Ulukhaktok (Holman Island), NT, in 1934, where he was a founding artist for the Holman Printmaking program [1] with Father Henri Tardy, and prominent artist Helen Kalvak (1901-1984). Banksland devoted the majority of his practice to printmaking, experimenting with different techniques and technologies, including stonecut, lithography, and etching. Banksland depicted a traditional way of life, at a time when change was sweeping across the arctic, with families moving from living on the land into settlements. With traditional Inuit practices changing within a generation, Banksland’s work provides a record of daily life. 

Banksland’s human figures engage in activities on the land, including fishing, travelling by qajaq and qamutiik (dogsled), eating, and children at play. Colour is minimal, and it is line that defines space and detail. Banksland was preoccupied more with narrative than realistic depictions of space, and his stylized prints float on the page. Human faces are exaggerated in his work, portraying emotion and expression, and the body gestures with a simple dramatic flair. In The Fish Trap (1972), Banksland uses a minimal colour palette to depict a man standing knee-deep in water, holding a stylized spear, as fish swim beneath water. Etching in the stone creates crisp white contour lines where Banksland’s hand is clearly represented, fish gliding under water while the spearhead is starkly white against the deep blue pool. Space is flattened and stretched to fit the page; Banksland is not interested in visual perspective but in action and narrative. From the intent look on the man’s face, to the jovial expressions of the fish, the print depicts the joy in catching fish. 

With an illustrative quality to his work, Banksland’s storytelling engages minimal scenery to focus on the activities and lives of his figures. Landscape, wildlife and people are in a symbiotic relationship, recalling traditional life on the land. Blocked shapes with thin etched lines and minimal patterns create visual weight to Banksland’s prints. His work has been an inspiration to other artists, including Peter Palvik (1960-), who credited Aliknak’s narratives about daily life being stronger work than that which is purely imagined [2]. 

Banksland was a prolific artist, with his prints selected for the Holman Annual Print Collection from 1967-1994. His work has been included in exhibitions nationally and abroad, and held in numerous public collections, including the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, ON, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC. He passed away in 1998, yet his work continues to be included in group exhibitions. 



Citations/Footnotes

  1. Darlene Coward Wight, from an interview with Elizabeth Banksland, “Alec Aliknak Banksland 1928-1998”, The Winnipeg Art Gallery - Virtual Museum, Accessed March 19, 2018, http://www.virtualmuseum.ca/Exhibitions/Holman/english/artists/index.php3#c1 
  2. Kate McCarthy, “Peter Palvik: I’m not just a surrealist”, Inuit Art Quarterly 16, no. 2 (Summer 2001): 25.