Skip to main content

Annie Pootoogook’s art wielded a matter-of-fact, almost deadpan style to closely depict all facets of modern Inuit life.

She was the artist who put the contemporary in contemporary Inuit art, a catalyst for other Inuit artists, young and old, to deal with life as it was in Canada's North, an award-winning international standard-bearer. And now Annie Pootoogook is dead at 47.

Officials with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in her hometown of Cape Dorset confirmed Friday afternoon that the woman whose body had been recovered Monday morning from the Rideau River in Ottawa was Ms. Pootoogook.

Police said they were not treating the incident as a homicide but crime investigators are seeking the public's help in retracing the artist's last hours and days.

Story continues below advertisement

Ms. Pootoogook had been living for roughly the past nine years in Ottawa, sometimes on the street and in shelters, sometimes plagued by alcohol and drug abuse and, in 2012, an unwanted pregnancy. She'd relocated there from Nunavut in the wake of a string of major artistic successes in southern Canada and internationally. These included an acclaimed solo exhibition, in 2006, of her ink, crayon, pencil and chalk drawings at Toronto's Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, one of Canada's premier venues for cutting-edge art. This in turn led to her winning the $50,000 Sobey Art Award that same year, given annually to an artist of singular talent under 40. In 2007 she was invited to participate at the prestigious Documenta 12 showcase, held every five years in Kassel, Germany. Two years later, she was given a solo show at New York's National Museum of the American Indian George Gustav Heye Center.

In photos: The work of artist Annie Pootoogook

Ms. Pootoogook's art was far removed from the imagery of kayaks, walruses, harpoons and the other tried-and-true themes and subjects that had informed much Inuit art from the 1950s onward. She wielded a matter-of-fact, almost deadpan style to closely depict all facets of modern Inuit life, from a husband beating his wife and families shopping, to men watching television porn and women beading.

Ms. Pootoogook, who began drawing in 1997, was the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona, one of the earliest Cape Dorset drawers and print-makers. Her mother Napachie was a prolific graphic artist while father Eegyvudluk was similarly esteemed as a carver and print-maker.

However, after her triumphs of 2006-09, Ms. Pootoogook's output slowed, then seemed to stop. Toronto dealer Pat Feheley, who'd given Ms. Pootoogook her first commercial bow in 2001 as part of a group show called The Unexpected, then her first solo outing in 2003, told The Globe and Mail in July of 2012 that she hadn't received an original Pootoogook drawing in more than three years.

In an interview Friday, Ms. Feheley said she was "stunned" by the loss. "She had a rough couple of years but I always thought she'd be back. We'd go back to Dorset and the image bank she would have had would have been amazing."

Ms. Pootoogook's art, at least initially, was almost a kind of therapy, Ms. Feheley said. "It was simply to get it out of her head. She didn't particularly care if they sold or not."

Story continues below advertisement

Tributes were quick to pour in.

Andrew Hunter, Canadian art curator at the Art Gallery of Ontario, called her "a profoundly influential artist who had the courage to push the boundaries of Inuit art."

Academic curator Gerald McMaster said "her legacy will not be forgotten, in that she leaves us thinking about the same troubled world she was brave enough to depict."

Nancy Campbell, former AGO associate curator of special projects, spoke of Ms. Pootoogook's "poignant, often difficult pictures" being "a crucial part of opening the dialogue about art-making in the North."

Report an error Editorial code of conduct
Comments

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • All comments will be reviewed by one or more moderators before being posted to the site. This should only take a few moments.
  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed. Commenters who repeatedly violate community guidelines may be suspended, causing them to temporarily lose their ability to engage with comments.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.
Cannabis pro newsletter