Niviaksiak

Niviaksiak was a sculptor and printmaker based out of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU and was amongst the first Inuit to create graphic work when it was introduced through the Kinngait Studios (formerly the Cape Dorset Co-operative) [1]. Niviaksiak spent much of his time on the land living in camp with his wife and children. His family was a group of prolific artists creating significant works for the early Cape Dorset Annual Print Collections and reached international acclaim.

Niviaksiak’s work gained interest from audiences in the South during the 1950s [2]. His use of abstraction, negative space and combination of perspectives distinguish his style. This is exemplified in his piece Polar Bear and Cub in Ice (1959) offering an aerial view of the bears while simultaneously emerging towards the audience. His use of vibrant colours and simplified shapes define figures and landscapes with subtle variance in the ink helping to convey texture and light. Following early experimentations in printing within the Kinngait Studios, Niviaksiak’s prints are mainly sealskin stencils [3]. Niviaksiak’s prints are usually monochrome blue on white paper occasionally including detailing in black or dark green. Some of Niviaksiak’s prints were executed in two different colours, such as Two Bears Hunting (1956) printed in both blue and black and green and black, making the use of two stencils necessary to avoid mixing the colours. Few of his prints are stonecut as this technique was introduced towards the end of his artistic career in the late 1950s. 

Niviaksiak contributed nine images to the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection. The print Man Hunting at a Seal Hole in the Ice (1959) is considered one of the most reproduced images to come out of the Kinngait Studios [4]. Niviaksiak’s work is part of numerous major museum collections including the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON, the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, QC and the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON. His work has also been part of several posthumous group exhibitions such as Spoken in Stone: An Exhibition of Inuit Art at the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies, Banff, AB in 1989, Northern Exposure at the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia, Halifax, NS from 2014 to 2015 and the travelling exhibition Inuit Prints: Japanese Inspiration produced by the Canadian Museum of History which ran from 2011 to 2015.

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Accomplishments

1959: Polar Bear and Cub (1959) was acquired by the Museum of Modern Art, NY and reproduced as a Christmas card.


Citations/Footnotes

1. "An Inuit Master Carver: Niviaksiak (1908–1959)," Scott Polar Research Institute, last Modified August 11, 2014, https://www.spri.cam.ac.uk/museum/news/collections/2014/08/11/an-inuit-master-carver-niviaksiak-1908-1959/.
2. John Ayre, "The Art That Came In from the Cold," The Beaver 79, no. 1 (February 1999): 8.
3. “Stencils,” Dorset Fine Arts, accessed October 16, 2016, http://www.dorsetfinearts.com/new-page-4/?rq=niviaksiak.
4. The Art of Canada Auction (Toronto: Waddington McLean & Company Ltd., 2016): 6, last updated May 30, 2016, https://www.waddingtons.ca/uploads/File/pdf/2016/05_30_The-Art-Of-Canada.pdf.