stone, 13.25 x 10 x 11.5 in (33.7 x 25.4 x 29.2 cm)
Estimate: $8,000 —$12,000
Private Collection, Montreal.
Tuna (Toona) Iquliq was born in Baker Lake. He began carving while living in Rankin Inlet for several years in the 1960s, returning to his home community around 1969. While we detect the influence of the Rankin sculptors Tiktak and particularly Kavik to some degree, Tuna had already developed an original carving style that blossomed in the early 1970s. His inclusion in the 1976 exhibition The People Within at the Art Gallery of Ontario cemented his position as one of Baker Lake's premier sculptors. Although Tuna could and did carve small, elegant birds of semi-abstract form, his style is generally more "primal" in look and feeling than that of most Baker Lake sculptors. Like his colleague Barnabus Arnasungaaq, Tuna carved steadily until his death in 2015. Three of his children, Camilla, Johnny, and Louie became stone carvers as well.
Birds were among Tuna Iquliq's very favourite subjects from the very beginning. In a 1964 exhibition catalogue listing twelve Tuna carvings, fully half depicted birds , and the artist carved birds in a variety of shapes and sizes and styles throughout his long career. Shaman with Bird Spirit is an imposing and ultimately enigmatic sculpture that treats the subject in a novel way. Instead of carving a transforming hybrid bird-human creature, or an image in which a bird spirit "visits" the shaman (by for instance sitting atop his head, as the sculpture by Tuna referenced below does), the artist takes a more conceptual approach. Here we are left wondering if the bird spirit is thinking of its shaman host - or vice versa - or if perhaps the shaman inhabits the bird spirit rather than the other way around. The way in which the shaman's face is crudely "branded" onto the bird's body seems almost like a violation, a scar. It's powerful stuff.
1. Winnipeg Art Gallery, Eskimo Carvers of the Keewatin N.W.T. (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1964).
References: For a more typically configured example of the theme by this artist see Darlene Coward Wight, The Faye and Bert Settler Collection (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 2004), p. 68. For a Cape Dorset sculpture with a very similar format, see Jean Blodgett, The Coming and Going of the Shaman: Eskimo Shamanism and Art (Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1978) cat. 37. For a large and rotund depiction of an owl by Tuna from c. 2000 see Walker's Auctions, Nov. 2017, Lot 298.