A Glimpse into Inuit Life

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Man Brushing Teeth Untitled (Girl holding doll)
Untitled (Man brushing teeth), Annie Pootoogook, 2006, Canadian Inuit (born 1969, Cape Dorset). Crayon and ink on paper. Collection of the Art Fund, Inc. at the Birmingham Museum of Art; Purchase with funds provided by Guy Kreusch, 119.2013.

By Emily Hanna, Ph.D., Curator, Arts of Africa and the Americas

The drawings of Annie Pootoogook capture the small, ordinary moments that make up the routine of a day, such as this work depicting an unshaven man brushing his teeth. This is a moment that occurs in households everywhere—it could be anyone. An interesting detail stands out: a note taped to the wall written in Inuktitut, the language of the Canadian Inuit. Instantly our assumptions about the identity of the subject and his surroundings change. He is Inuit, but not the Inuit of peoples’ imaginations.

At first glance, the second drawing appears to portray a girl holding an “Eskimo” doll. Upon closer inspection, the girl seems more a grown woman—possibly Annie Pootoogook herself—with a jeweled ring prominent on her left hand. The male doll, dressed in the traditional Native American clothing of the Arctic, is rendered in the greyscale of newsprint or a vintage photograph.

Pootoogook’s drawings, layered with humor and poignancy, explore issues of identity, societal and family problems, and the blend of modern and traditional experience that characterizes contemporary Inuit life.