Jessie Oonark (1906-1985) is a prominent figure in Canadian art history. Originally from Qamani'tuaq or Baker Lake (Nunavut), she has created an important body of work, including drawings, prints and tapestries from 1970 to 1985, year which she received the Order of Canada. Her works have been presented in numerous solo and collective exhibitions. Among her children, eight of them have become renowned artists, of which William Noah, her youngest.
I was the youngest son, although we were three children raised by my parents and grandma Cassie Nataq: my sister, my brother and myself. I have seen and heard legend stories. I heard about "A giant huge man" as I became a father many years later. Fishing stories are my lifetime stories; I have been living them every day. I have heard stories about Kiviuq and the fishmaker, the former going on a journey searching for his wife and two children.
I have seen giant fish; I now know better to not get too close to the deep parts where river currents are strong. There are fish of all sizes and different species. We used to live mostly by fishing, but also hunting caribou. Not so long ago, they were our sources of food on a daily basis. At that time, we never thought of buying from a store, because we lived 134 miles northwest of Baker Lake.
I remember when the entire family was living as a whole, including brothers-in-law and sisters: one big family. I chose these artworks because of their resemblance to our big family. Our main source of country food is the fish from Back River, in Nunavut. When drying long lines of white fillets at our spring camp, smelly red Arctic char meat and oil drippings made us tired of the tastes and smells of big fish.
Lastly, the legend stories my granny Nataq told at bedtime: I didn't always get to hear the whole story because I fell asleep too soon. These images may give you an idea of our lifestyles before being moved to the settlement. Those were our traditions.
- William Noah
Artist William Noah played a political role and was part of the Northwest Territories Legislative Assembly from 1979 to 1982. He was also community liaison officer for AREVA Resources Canada for several years. During his career, he created the Art and Cold Cash Collective alongside four other artists and was co-curator for the exhibition entitled Qamanittuaq (Where the River Widens): Drawings by Baker Lake Artists.
For this exhibition, curator William Noah puts fourteen prints into context in a personal manner, evoking stories, souvenirs and scenes from daily life.