Inuit Art: Modern Trends and Traditions

November 9, 2017

Arts & Animation

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Inuit art can be best described as a ritual art. It is practised by the Canadian Eskimo, a minority group of less than thirty thousand people. The artworks of Inuit art can be found almost everywhere around the world: many rich and famous people spend their fortune collecting Inuit artworks. The art as a trend developed in 1948, when the young Canadian artist James A. Houston hitchhiked to the north of his country. He made some sketches of Inuits and gave them to the people who responded by granting him their artworks- small carvings, which they had made themselves. This first meeting with the Eskimo artworks was soon to be followed by many others. Missionaries, traders and whales started travelling to the north. The value of the carvings and the other artworks was soon appreciated and Inuit people began making their living by exchanging their art with precious goods for daily usage. Carved objects such as incised walrus tusks and miniature figures became very popular in Canada and later on in other places of the globe.

What is the main topic of Inuit art and what makes it so adorable to collectors? Perhaps it is the strong relation with nature. Inuit art depicts the physical environment and the severe way of life of the Eskimo people. It is also a representation of their traditions and beliefs, of their religious attitude. Subject matter in their art works is the northern nature, the land and the sea, also the northern animals, the birds, the plants, insects and mammals, which are indigenous to the north. Tradition has played an important role in the development of the Eskimo people, so it is included in the overall impression their art suggests.

The origins of the Eskimo people are one of the reason for Inuit art to arise. The ancient Eskimo people crossed Russia and established their new home in Alaska. The weather conditions there were so severe, that Eskimos needed all their strength to survive. The Arctic Canada was an uninhabited territory so surviving there cost them a great effort. Thus, their beliefs in the supernatural, in northern spirits and animals arose. Their traditions served a supporting role for the surviving. The ancient expressed their worries and hopes by making small amulets and adorning implements. The Inuit art is very sophisticated and attention upon small details is paid: I have seen an ancient polar bear carved on a piece of ivory smaller than a thumbnail. Inuit developed strong senses so that they could survive in the wilderness. To stay alive in the rude conditions an Eskimo needed to hunt as well as a polar bear, to imitate animal sounds in order to catch the animal, to sense a forthcoming danger faster than a raven. Animals became symbols of strength and courage, that’s why they are pictured and carved in Iniut art works. Perhaps tradition and beliefs is what makes Inuit art so popular among Western civilization: the art works were produced with a vivid sense of the surrounding world and in respect for nature.