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The Inuk Goddess Of Art And Creativity

A poem/article about Canadian-Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook (1969-2016)

By Talia DevoraPublished 8 months ago 12 min read
Annie Pootoogook with her artwork at an art gallery in Canada. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.aic-iac.ca.


"Composition (Family Playing Cards)", a pencil drawing done by Annie Pootoogook around 2000-2001. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.aic-iac.ca. As you can see at the bottom right, Annie's artist signature is written in Inuktitut, her mother tongue, and the Indigenous language spoken in Nunavut, Canada.

As an emerging artist, I'd like to shed some light not only on my own masterpieces, but on masterpieces produced by multiple artists who inspire me to chase my dreams.

Besides famous abstract artist Jean-Michel Basquiat, Annie Pootoogook would have to be on the top of my favourite artists in the world list! Her innate artistic abilities, her history with mental health issues, and her drive to create and present wows me. Although she is no longer on this earth to showcase her artwork and tell her stories, she will remain in my heart and thoughts for the rest of my existence.

I discovered her in the winter of 2022, as I began to look for art inspiration and do some research on Inuk art, music, language, etc. As soon as I found a few of her art pieces on Google Images, I was amazed by her artistic talent that I couldn't resist thinking about her, talking about her, and pondering her creativity. It's mind-blowing for a woman whose had a difficult life to become an award-winning visual artist. After discovering her on the Internet, I asked myself an important question: If she can chase her dreams, why can't I? That question followed me around nonstop, and that's why I want to become an artist.

I hope you learn some new things from this eye-opening article/poem about Annie Pootoogook!

Annie's early life

"My Mother and I", a pencil drawing done by Annie Pootoogook in 2006. This photo was retrieved from Google Images via www.aci-iac.ca.

Annie Pootoogook was a renowned Canadian-Inuk artist. She was born on May 11, 1969, in Cape Dorset (now Kinnigait), Nunavut, Canada. Annie was raised in a household of artists all of whom worked for the West Baffin Eskimo Co-ooperative, one of the first artist organizations founded in the north in 1960. Her family members worked in various mediums and styles and Annie became fascinated by art as a child. Napachie Pootoogook, her mother, was a draftswoman (a female artist who produces detailed technical plans and drawings), and Eegyvudluk Pootoogook, her father, was a printmaker and stone sculptor. She was the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona, a prominent graphic artist, the niece of Kananginak Pootoogook, a printmaker, and the cousin of Shuvinai Ashoona, another draftswoman in her family.

Annie's artistic career

"Drawing with Pencil (Bay Blanket)", a drawing done with coloured pencil, ink, and paper by Annie Pootoogook around 2005-2006. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.aic.iac.ca.

Annie's artistic career emerged in 1997, at 28 years old. She built her artistic skills working with her family members and Elders at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset, Nunavut, Canada. At the start of her career, she was often told by the Co-op studio managers that her works about modern Inuit life, commenting on consumerism and southern influences in the north, would be fruitless because they violated the universal themes that the Co-op deemed to be of interest to the southern art business- namely, pictures from Inuit mythology or scenes from the natural world.

The 2000's were Annie's most prolific years. She had two art exhibitions at Feherly Fine Arts in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Patricia Feherly, the director of the art gallery, was the first dealer to display Annie's artwork, originally in a group exhibition called The Unexpected in 2001, and then after, in a solo show called Annie Pootoogook- Moving Forward: Works on Paper in 2003. This was her first solo art exhibition and was crucial for her art career, because it was a stepping-stone towards fame. It was between 2001 and 2007 that she became the most abundant in her art creation. During this time of her life, she drew intimate home interior scenes illustrating violence, alcohol addiction, and domestic abuse, the daily experiences of a woman residing in northern Canada, the adversities faced by northern Canadian communities, and the affect of technology on traditional Inuit life. She advanced both her artistic style and content during this era starting to draw photographs that could be easily credited to her.

After a highly triumphant solo show at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in 2006, she began to gain country-wide attention outside of the creative arts industry and Inuit art business. She attended the significant Glenfiddich Artists in Residence Program in Dufftown, Scotland. During her time in Scotland, she generated a wide range of art pieces while in Scotland. She worked as an independent visual artist during this point in her career, resigning from the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in 2001.

In 2006, after her residency, she was named the recipient of the prestigious Sobey Art Award. A new classification was even created in order for her to be nominated: "Prairies & the North". Besides the prize winnings of $50,000.00, she acquired an art show at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts in Quebec. With the new public acknowledgement of her works and winnings, she chose to remain in Montreal, Quebec. She experienced a wide range of challenges there without the assistance of the Co-op and her community. Even though she returned to Kinnigait (then Cape Dorset), her hometown, for a few months, she soon transferred to the south again, this time to Canada's capital city of Ottawa, in hopes of becoming more profitable. She produced hand-drawn illustrations documenting her life in the city, such as Annie and Andre (2009). In Ottawa, she collaborated with a team of other Inuit artists and displayed her drawings at SAW Gallery.

Throughout her career, she produced over 1,000 art pieces on paper and it was during this period that she was honoured as an artist outside of the Inuit community.

With respect to her subject matter, she was famous for her drawings created in pen and coloured pencils that represent the modern Inuit culture. The Inuit way of life and experiences greatly impacted her artistic career, giving her the subject matter that she would later make available. Besides mainly focusing on topics such as the adversities faced by the northern communities, the impact of technology on the traditional Inuit culture, and the daily experiences of women living in northern Canada, she focused on three common topics: alcohol addiction, violence, and domestic abuse- reducing the safety and security of the home.

Her artwork is greatly inspired by her mother Napachie Pootoogook and her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona, both of whom were popular and highly recognized Inuit visual artists. Like her mother and grandmother, Annie worked in the Inuit tradition of sulijuk which means "it is true", in Inuktitut. This means she symbolized life as she viewed it without adding too much of her hand into the composition.

Pootoogook is acclaimed for titling her work for exactly what they portray, i.e. "Man Abusing his Partner", where a man is seen abusing his wife.

Her artistic style was distinctive. Her compositions used minimal line drawings with figure posed in frontal or profile views. Annie used one-point perspective to produce the illusion of depth but manipulates this depth by flattening the perspectives of the subjects. Her illustrations often show large expanses of white space with muted colour schemes. Her work has been described as "rudimentary" and "immature" as it doesn't maintain any realism of form or shape. According to art critics Bloom and Glasberg, "Her chosen medium of 'primitive' or child's crayon also refers back to the art industry that has brought her recognition and success and suggests an untold story of pressured adaptation".

She frequently included clocks in her work which had made them a motif that is linked with her work and allows for easy allocation. Her work apprehends a moment in time which is a significant theme to Annie. It is not known why time plays a significant role in her work. Even so, the clock concept has been agreed upon by scholars to be artistically key to her creative work.

Her works are not reproducible which breaches traditional printmaking practices of Inuit art where copies are made to be sold and distributed. As a result, her artwork isn't as widely shown as there is only one copy of each work.

Annie's artistic recognition and awards

"Sobey Award", a drawing done with coloured pencil and ink on paper by Annie Pootoogook in 2006. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.aic.iac.ca.

As mentioned above, Annie had her first solo art exhibition in 2006, when her art pieces were displayed as part of a top-notch art show at The Power Plant in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The art exhibition, designed by Nancy Campbell, concentrated on topics such as mythology, Inuit communities, and lifes hardships in the Arctic.

In November 2006, Annie Pootoogook won the Sobey Art Award and was given a prize of a whopping $50,000.00 CAD (Canadian Dollars). The Sobey Art Award is given to an artist who is 39 years old or younger and has displayed their artwork in a public or commerical art gallery in Canada in the past 18 months, at the time of their application. The press release declaring Annie's win stated that "her works reflect both the current moment of a specific tradition and of a contemporary drawing practice".

After winning the Sobey Art Award, she continued to receive constant exposure. She displayed in major visual art shows like the Biennale de Montreal, Art Basel, and Documenta 12. She was the first Inuk artist to participate in Documenta- an art exhibit of modern art held in Kassel, Germany.

From 2009-2010, her work was exhibited in solitary art exhibitions at various art galleries such as the Agnes Etherington Art Centre in Kingston, Ontario, the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the George Gustav Heye Centre in New York City. In 2010, her work was also shown at the Biennale of Sydney in Australia.

Annie got involved in one of her final exhibitions in 2012 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Curated by Denise Markonish, the exhibition titled Oh, Canada, showcased 62 Canadian artists including the work of Annie's cousin Shuvinai Ashoona. Annie was the only professional artist from the Ottawa region represented in the art exhibition.

Annie's life challenges

Annie Pootoogook on the streets in Ottawa a few years before her sudden death. Photo retrieved from Google Images via CBC.

Although Annie had a bright childhood filled with trips to the land for clam digging, berry picking, and camping, she had some complications that impacted her mental well-being over the course of her youth into her adulthood.

Before Annie was born, two of her siblings tragically died in a house fire. Annie Pootoogook was named after her deceased sister Annie. In Inuk culture, families pass on the names of their deceased children or community members to the next newborn baby, regardless of gender.

In 1972, another one of Annie's sisters tragically died at sea as she was playing in the water.

Since there was no high school in her hometown, Annie and her family transferred to Iqaluit, the capital city of Nunavut, where Annie attended high school for four years. During her high school career in Iqaluit, Annie's mental health started to deteriorate, and she was on a dark path. Annie developed a drug addiction and embarked on a series of toxic and often risky relationships with guys. It is unknown whether Annie graduated from secondary school or not. As a result of the trauma she endured in Iqaluit, she returned to her hometown in 1990, where she would be close to her family, friends, and community.

As a young woman, Annie conceived two boys, both of who were adopted out.

During her stay in Scotland, she felt isolated. It was her first time travelling abroad and working outside of Kinnigait Studio, where she felt comfortable working.

A year after receiving the Sobey Art Award, she moved to Montreal, Quebec. Just a few months after she moved to Montreal, her money had either been spent, shared, or stolen.

In 2008, she moved to Ottawa, the capital city of Canada. The challenges that she dealt with in Montreal started to resurface in Ottawa, Ontario. She no longer considered herself an artist with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, and her work became less profitable. Because of the unfamiliarity of urban cities and culture, Annie became alienated.

While she was residing in Ottawa, she formed an intimate relationship with full-time panhandler, William Watt. Their relationship was rocky: he'd abuse her physically, mentally, and emotionally while they lived together. One one occasion, William laid his hands on her, because he believed that she gave him a sexually transmitted disease. He claimed that it was the only time he touched her violently. As a consequence, William was charged and convicted for the assault against Annie while he was on probation. He was incarcerated for 45 days and stayed on probation for two years after his sentence.

William always challenged her addictive behaviours, and Annie despised him for that. He'd always tell her, "If you want to drink yourself to death, don't do it at my house". As a result of the constant criticism Annie received from William, she'd leave the house to hang out on the streets or at a homeless shelter where she was free to drink by herself.

William has a lengthy criminal history: he has numerous theft charges, but only one assault charge. He is also accused of obstruction, public indecency, and ownership of illegal substances from a dispute with a police officer on the streets.

A few years before Annie died, Annie conceived a baby girl while living in a homeless shelter in Ottawa. Her baby girl was adopted out.

Annie's final days and tragic death

Annie Pootoogook in the art studio. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.dorsetfinearts.com.

On the morning of her demise, a friend of Annie's claimed to have seen her outside of the Shepherds of Good Hope shelter in the Byward Market where Annie occasionally stayed. Her friend also claimed that Annie shared cigarettes with her at about the time the shelter serves breakfast. Annie didn't eat breakfast. Instead of eating breakfast, Annie disappeared and went for an early morning walk.

The day before Annie passed away, her friend and ex-boyfriend saw her out in public. She stated that Annie asked to speak with her privately and then expressed that she was scared that William would find her. She was attempting to escape an abusive relationship she had with William.

As a result of the continuous abuse she endured in the hands of William, she stopped drawing, because he'd rip them up. He'd also control how she'd spent the money she earned, and he'd steal it from her.

On September 19th, 2016, Annie drowned in the Rideau River in Ottawa, Ontario, in what police declared as a suspicious death. Her body was a short walk from the homeless shelter she was staying in at the time. Two autopsies figured that her cause of death was drowning, but it was never announced if someone had killed her on purpose.

After her death, the lead investigator on the case, Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar posted online comments that were offensive and racist, stating that it was likely Annie's death was due to alcoholism or drug abuse because of her ethnicity. He also claimed that it was not a murder case on social media. An investigation into Hrnchiar's behaviour was undertaken as a consequence. Two months after Annie passed away, Hrnchiar pleaded guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act, and for making comments on an open investigation.

Annie's body was transported back to Cape Dorset (aka Kinnigait), in which a funeral took place in her home village. The funeral service was performed entirely in Inuktitut, her mother tongue. Annie's youngest daughter was able to attend the funeral and this was the first time she met her extended Inuk family.

The poem

Annie Pootoogook with one of her art pieces. Photo retrieved from Google Images via www.feherlyfinearts.com.

She was a precious stone,

so fragile

that you didn't want to break it.

She was a bucket

full of colour,





and all the different

art elements.

She was an open book

with pages and chapters

of endless stories

to be told

in pictures.

She was a masterpiece

that you'd conserve

for hours,




and years on end.

She was the true

Inuk goddess

of art and creativty.

"Dr. Phil", a drawing done with pencil crayons and ink on paper by Annie Pootoogook in 2006. Photo retrieved from www.theglobeandmail.com. This is one of the famous drawings she did during her career as an artist.

Thank you for taking the time to read this poem/article I wrote from the bottom of my heart. I hope you had the chance to honour her memory by learning some new things about both Inuk culture and her life, and exploring her amazing artwork. If you enjoyed this poem/article, please give it a ❤️, share it with others, comment, and please send me a tip to show your appreciation and support. If you want to see more exciting content I created, please consider visiting my public profile and hitting that "magic subscribe button". Stay tuned for more exciting poems, articles, recipes, stories, and much more!

Please feel free to connect with me outside of Vocal!

IG: @tdwrites24 (where you'll find all of my literary creations) and @taliascreations331 (where you'll find all of my visual artwork, coding, etc.)

By Isaac Demeester on Unsplash

Authors note: Iqaluit, in Inuktitut, means "place of many fish". To find out more about Iqaluit, please find the link to the Wikipedia page down below.

By Isaac Demeester on Unsplash



About the Creator

Talia Devora

Poetess, visual artist and lifestyle/quiz writer! My pastimes include reading, sleeping, gaming, music, fitness, etc! Be yourselves, be kind and value life! Let's connect and be friends!

My IG accounts: @tdwrites24 & @tdcreates97

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Comments (6)

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  • Daphsam6 months ago

    Thank you for sharing this very interesting article. The poem really captures the essence of Annie.

  • Denise E Lindquist7 months ago

    Thank you so much for sharing the story of Annie Pootoogook.❤️ Domestic violence is ugly and too often deadly. Just yesterday my daughter was so upset about a nurse being severely beaten by her partner and escaping to another state. So sad💙

  • Ty for an Interesting article, a wonderful person who had such a sad life, but what talent she had, ty for sharing xx

  • Babs Iverson8 months ago

    Talia, this is a beautiful tribute to Annie!!!❤️❤️💕 Annie was an amazing artist. Her artwork displayed in prestigious museums. While mental health issues and wrong relationships, caused her untimely demise.

  • Heather Hubler8 months ago

    I'd never heard of Annie before or had seen her art. This was a wonderful look into her life both artistically and personally. It's sad that she endured so many hardships that eventually led to her death. Thank you for highlighting her talent and bringing it to more people. Wonderful work, Talia :)

  • Alex H Mittelman 8 months ago

    Interesting! Good work! Great!

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