Focus series — Photography and Inuit Tattoos
The Focus series is an ongoing partnership between Library and Archives Canada and the National Gallery of Canada.
On view until May 2024
National Gallery of Canada, A111a
Historical photographs of Inuit women with tattoos express the complexities of interaction between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people. Patterns on the face, arms and legs may be authentic and expressive of the subject’s cultural background or completely fictional.
For example, photographers sometimes asked women to paint lines on their face to mimic tattoos, resulting in a patterning not representative of the woman’s community or region. In other cases, photographers covered tattoos with make-up or erased them through darkroom processes. Because their cameras had difficulty registering the subtle lines of tattoos on the skin, photographers also sometimes enhanced faded patterns with paint, resulting in thicker lines and heavier patterning. Present-day Inuit wishing to reclaim the tattoo practice must be mindful of these disrespectful interventions and inaccurate representations of their culture.
Mary Edetoak Creating Faces, Spence Bay, Northwest Territories 1972
Documentary photographer Pamela Harris recorded community life in Taloyoak, Nunavut (then Spence Bay, NWT) for three months in 1972 and 1973 (published as Another Way of Being). In 1973 she also raised funds to set up a darkroom in the local women’s craft shop and taught darkroom skills to women in the Arnaqarvik craft collective. They used photography to document their work with Arctic natural dyes and crafts, which evolved into Taluq Designs.
Mary Edetoak was a highly respected Elder who created songs, stories, dolls and carvings.
Library and Archives Canada (e011313027)
© Pamela Harris. Reproduced with the permission of Pamela Harris