Article body

Isuma, which means “to think” in Inuktitut, showcases the work of Ruben Anton Komangapik, an Inuk sculptor from Pond Inlet who began his art studies at Nunavut Arctic College in Iqaluit, Nunavut, in 1993 and draws heavily on the traditional Inuit culture he learned from his paternal grandparents for his subject matter. Ruben’s wife, Estelle Marcoux Komangapik, provided high-quality photographs of the sculptures, the artist at work, and some of the important locations in his life. His mother, Dorothee Komangapik, wrote introductions to the subject-based chapters titled “Inuit Hunters,” “Inuit and Animals,” “The Legend of Nuliajuq The Great Sea Spirit,” “Tupilait,” “The Legend of the Blind Boy and How the Narwhal Came To Be,” and “Inuit Spiritualism.” The photographs, many of which are full page and include complete works and details, are titled in English and Inuktitut. An index, complete with colour thumbnails, identifies the dimensions and materials. Like the subject matter, the materials—Brazilian soapstone, baleen, walrus tusk, and so forth—will be familiar to collectors of Inuit art.

Possibly the most unusual works in this photo collection of sculptures are the tupilait. Tupilait (sing. tupilak) have a particular association with Greenland. The oldest extant examples and explanatory documents about them are from Ammassalik, East Greenland, where production of them increased during the 1890s in connection with changing climatic conditions that almost wiped out the people living there. A tupilak is a kind of amulet that shamans create from a variety of naturally occurring materials to conjure malevolent spirit forces against those whom they seek to overpower. Once considered dangerous because the activated forces might return and do harm to the tupilak’s creator and because the mere sight of a tupilak could be fatal, tupilait were transformed into marketable carvings in the early twentieth century and became popular items. As the opening biographical section in Isuma explains, Ruben is descended from Quumangaapik, one of those who followed a shaman to Thule in Greenland in the mid-19th century.

They followed a shaman on the treacherous journey which took many years. The shaman had had visions of Inuit living in this inhospitable region of Greenland, and when the group arrived, they indeed found the Inuit from his visions, though they were living in terrible conditions. This small group of Inuit was able to share technologies that helped the Greenlandic Inuit survive. Many members of the group did not survive the trip back to Baffin Island, though Quumangaapik did.

p. 9

Ruben’s baleen and sperm whale tooth tupilait are shown in full-page colour views and in a two-page spread of 18 details. Such images not only recall the general aspects of traditional life that have long been the hallmark of Inuit art but also resonate with the associations and memories of specific individuals whose stories have been passed down from generation to generation. Isuma thus has a place in personal and public libraries devoted to Inuit folklore and history, as well as art.