Inuit Art

Inuit art is art by indigenous people who work across different genres such as sculpture, graphics, painting, carving, and others.


The history of Inuit art can be traced back to the Dorset and Pre-Dorset nomadic people who lived in Labrador, the Canadian Arctic, and other parts of the world. Carvings from 4000 BC have been found and preserved, with figures such as seals, walruses, bears, birds, and humans. The Pre-Dorset culture, also known as Paleo-Eskimo, produced diverse objects and works of art, including artefacts with geometric figures and designs, ivory seals, and maskettes from bone, wood, and other materials. During the Dorset period, nomadic people produced various works of art that reflect the influence of shamanism at that time. Pieces include human-seal and human-bear figures, animal and naturalistic carvings, and other 3-dimensional carvings. The Ipiutak culture perished around 800 CE but produced a number of elaborate pieces of art, including pieces with anthropomorphic, animal, and geometric designs. The Thule people, who are the ancestors of todays’ Inuit, left various tools and artefacts such as spears, pots, needle cases, and buttons, decorated with graphic elements. Archeologists have found objects such as figurines and figures, amulets, and dance masks adorned in accord with their mythology.

Types of Art

There are different types and forms of art, including sculpture, block printing, relief printing, carving, and others. Artists utilize diverse materials such as stone, ivory, and bone, among others. Some artists focus exclusively on the human figure while others create geometric designs and geometric abstractions.

The most common type of art is argillite or soapstone carving with representations and images of birds, walruses, bears, and other animals. Family scenes are also common in Inuit art. Small masks adorned with birds and animals are created as well. Sculpture is also a form of art embraced by many Inuit artists. They create sculptures that represent walking bears, dancing gooses, walruses, hunters, eagles, caribous, and a lot more. Materials that are used to create sculptures include marine mammal ivory, antlers, and animal bones. Pieces of art are carved and shaped by hand. Works can range from accents to master carvings.

Notable Inuit Artists

The list of notable artists is quite long and includes names such as John Pangnark, Pitseolak Ashoona, David Ruben Piqtoukun, and Kenojuak Ashevak to name a few. Kenojuak Ashevak, for example, is known as one of the founders of modern Inuit art and has utilized different styles and materials such as acrylics, watercolors, poster paints, felt-tip pens, and colored pencils. A famous print of hers, called the The Enchanted Owl is showcased on a Canadian post stamp. David Ruben Piqtoukun is a Canadian artist who focuses mostly on prints and sculptures and utilizes materials such as soapstone, caribou antler, walrus ivory, and other unusual and non-traditional materials. Manasie Akpaliapik specializes in carving, and his works are showcased in the Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada. Germaine Arnaktauyok is also a prolific Canadian Inuit artist who works in and experiments with different genres, including drawing, painting, and printmaking. He produces various types of work such as serigraphs, etchings, and lithographs that illustrate Inuit tradition and mythology. Born in the Northwest Territories, Peter Pitseolak was a Canadian Inuit artist, sculptor, and photographer. His first photographs were actually developed in a hunting igloo. Other notable artists of Inuit origin include Simeonie Keenainak, Annie Pootoogook, Irene Avaalaaqiaq Tiktaalaaq, Nick Sikkuark, and many others.

Inuit artists also work across a variety of genres such as beading, embroidery, tapestry, doll making, soft sculpture, sculpture, and so on. They use a combination of techniques and materials such as stone, ivory, tusks, fur, antler, and bone. While many artists focused on home-grown materials until recently, an increasing number of artists employ non-traditional materials such as whale bone, marble, granite, and others. And while Inuit people were more isolated in the past due to long distances to their communities, today more and more artists relocate to reach wider audiences. Artists increasingly organize and participate in workshops, exhibition openings, teaching workshops, symposia, conferences, and meetings.