stone, antler, and black colouring, 7.5 x 7.5 x 3.5 in (19.1 x 19.1 x 8.9 cm)
ESTIMATE: $5,000— $8,000
PRICE REALIZED: $5,280
Feheley Fine Arts, Toronto;
Acquired from the above by the present Private Collection, USA, 2006.
In the last twenty years of his life Josiah Nuilaalik, one of Jessie Oonark's many talented children, created an important body of work that explored transformation and the spirit world. He freely admitted to having no real knowledge of the subject - I have never seen transformation with my eyes, but I carve what I imagine it would look like  - but was happy to create images purely from his own imagination.
Nuilaalik's gift was the ability to seamlessly combine animals of often vastly different sizes and forms into fantasy creatures that looked strangely believable. As gallerist Robert Kardosh has written:
…what makes his work so interesting is the expressiveness - and in many cases the sheer inventiveness - of his sculptural forms, which can be appreciated for their own sake independent of their narrative content… Many of Nuilaalik's sculptures feel as though they have been literally stretched or pulled into shape rather than just simply carved out of the stone ... .
Here the shaman has taken on a hybrid bird-fish (or whale) form. The attendant spirit bird may be entering his body as part of the transformation, but sometimes birds are depicted simply as messengers. The bird and shaman might be taking wing together on a spirit flight; that would explain the ecstatic expression on the face of the shaman.
1. From a 2004 artist interview in Ingo Hessel, Arctic Spirit, p. 77.
2. Robert Kardosh, "Introduction" in Marion Scott Gallery (1999), p. 6.
References: Marion Scott Gallery, Two Great Image Makers from Baker Lake (Vancouver: 1999) illustrates 36 works by the artist. See also Ingo Hessel, Arctic Spirit, (Douglas & McIntyre/Heard Museum, 2006) cats. 30, 66. For other important works by Nuilaalik see Walker's Auctions, Nov. 2012, Lot 80; May 2013, Lot 14; Nov. 2013, Lot 114; May 2014, Lot 42; Nov. 2014, Lot 15.