LUKE IKSIKTAARYUK (1909-1977) QAMANI'TUAQ (BAKER LAKE)
Drum Dance Scene, early 1970s
antler, wood, caribou heart tissue, cord, and metal, dimensions variable: 10 x 14.25 x 10 in (25.4 x 36.2 x 25.4 cm)
Estimate: $25,000 — $35,000
Upstairs Gallery, Winnipeg;
A Private Collection, Canada;
Walker's Auctions, Nov. 2012, Lot 106;
Private Collection, U.K.
Inuit drum dances were usually performed in one of two circumstances: either as community events at festivals and song contests, or as part of shamanic séances. In The Coming and Going of the Shaman Jean Blodgett writes: "The solemnity of the performance, the absolute and evident trust and belief of the officiating shaman and his audience, and concerted singing of hymns and rhythmic beat of the drum all combined to give the séance the dignity of a religious service . Sadly, many Christian missionaries suppressed even social drum dancing. The activity went underground in some communities, or was practised at small social gatherings of mostly elders, but disappeared in others. Today drum dancing is a more secular festive activity, sometimes performed in front of a large audience.
Iksiktaaryuk's drum dance scenes very likely depict shamanic séances or at the very least spiritually charged communal gatherings; in keeping with the overall spirit of this artist's work, they strike us as decidedly sober, not festive. In this compelling example the relatively large size of the standing drumming figure further suggests that he is a shaman-drummer, surrounded by a seated ring of female ayaya singers who mostly look down as they focus on accompanying the hypnotic beat of the drum. (We can imagine that an unseen male audience in the séance would have been seated or standing in a second, outer ring.) This size differential is seen also in the WAG and Sarick examples (see references).
Curator Norman Zepp chose Iksiktaaryuk as one of two Baker Lake artists for his landmark Pure Vision exhibition because of the austere, elemental qualities found in his sculpture. The spirit of Iksiktaaryuk's pared-down antler works fits well with the work of the six stone sculptors in the exhibition and certainly contrasts with the more playful and "folk art" sensibility of other Inuit artists who have specialized in antler carving.
As is always the case with Iksiktaaryuk's group scenes, it is worth examining each of the figures separately, for each figure and each face has its own personality. In this respect the faces are comparable to those seen in the sculptures of Lucy Tasseor, Iksiktaaryuk's "pure vision" colleague from Arviat (see Lot 10). Iksiktaaryuk's penchant for economy of form is apparent in at least two ways: first, in the artist's subtle shaping and even use of natural protrusions of the antler to represent amautiq pouches, indicating that the singers are women; and second and more extreme, the way in which the drum beater simply grows out of the right arm without any differentiation from it.
1. Jean Blodgett, The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1978), p. 140.
References: For examples of similar scenes by Iksiktaaryuk with large drummers, see Jean Blodgett, The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1978) cat. 89, and a work from the Sarick Collection in Gerald McMaster ed., Inuit Modern (Toronto: AGO, 2010), p. 132. For two other examples (plus other works by the artist) see Norman Zepp, Pure Vision (Norman Mackenzie Art Gallery, 1986) cats. 74-82. See also Jean Blodgett, Grasp Tight the Old Ways: Selections from the Klamer Family Collection of Inuit Art (Toronto: AGO, 1983) cat. 12, and Ingo Hessel, Arctic Spirit (Douglas & McIntyre/Heard Museum, 2006), cat. 154.