Navigation (in separate window)

Homepage Art History on Stamps

Search Google

Arts on Stamps from the Polar Regions

Back to Index

Something Strange made on Purpose

Inspired by an art book about popular arts from Greenland, I suddenly imagined myself on the top of the Globe, turning slowly around myself in a circle of 360 degrees, meeting people from Alaska over the arctic regions of Canada, Greenland, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Russia, Northern Siberia, Sakhalin, and Hokkaido in Japan. 

Some 50 different peoples with each their language and cultural heritage. A both new and ancient world of art opened up to me, a world of universal beauty from the northernmost parts of Earth.    

In the Inuit languages there is no original word or phrase to describe art, but encountering with the Europeans a new word was developed:  "eqqumiitsuliaq", meaning "something strange made on purpose". 

From prehistoric times Inuit tools have been noted for their careful construction and the artistry of their carved ornamentation. Ivory from walruses and whales, the most accessible material for carving, is fashioned into figurines representing animals and people, and into decorated knobs, handles, and other tool parts. Driftwood and whalebone are carved into ceremonial masks, some small enough to be worn on women's fingers during a ritual dance. 

Greenland 1977. Inuit Art. Greenlandic mask . Greenland 1978. Inuit Art. Greenlandic tupilak of walros tusk. Greenland 1979. Inuit Art. Greenlandic soapstone figure. Greenland 1980. Inuit Art. Wooden figures showing a Greenlandic couple with their child.

After contact with European, Canadian, and US traders began in the 18th century, the Inuit also made as trade items scrimshaw-carved tusks and ivory and whalebone objects, such as canes and cribbage boards. After about 1950, the Canadian government, concerned with pressures that increasingly pushed the Inuit into a cash economy, encouraged the carving and sale of highly sophisticated soapstone sculptures. Sculpture and printmaking, marketed through cooperatives, have become mainstays of the Canadian Inuit economy and the best-known aspect of Inuit culture.  

Canada 1978. Inuit Art. Set #1. Canada 1978. Inuit Art. Set #2.

Canada 1978, a set describing the Inuit way of travelling.

Canada 1977. Inuit Art. Set #1. Canada 1977. Inuit Art. Set #2.

Canada 1977, a set describing Inuit hunting methods.

Canada 1979. Inuit Art. Set #1. Canada 1979. Inuit Art. Set #2.

Canada 1979, a set describing the Esquimo Shelter and Community

Canada 1980. Inuit Art. Set #1.

Canada 1980. Inuit Art. Set #2.

 Canada 1980, a set describing the Esquimo Supernatural Spirit, the so-called Tupilaks, or "Talisman".

Originally all (art) items were an integrated part of everyday life.  Everything had a function, from the well made kayak over the water bucket with decorations, to the small massive doll, cut out of driftwood.  Everything had its use and place in a community where the art of know-how was crucial for surviving.  In our "civilized" world the tendency has been to perceive the Nordic peoples and their arts as primitive, but this seems as far from the truth as could be.  On the contrary, the Nordic arts are simple, open, and sophisticated, reflecting both daily life and conditions for surviving for human beings; they are arts, where religion and political ideologies have no part at all.  But the population of the arctic areas should not be perceived as freezing, starving victims of the general circumstances.  On the contrary, these people have chosen to protect themselves from a merciless world through their faith in myths and legends, in "assisting gods" and shamans, and therefore the Inuits have successfully survived in the arctic areas through 5,000 years.  

Inuit, also called Eskimo, are the Arctic people inhabiting small enclaves in the coastal areas of Greenland, Arctic North America (including Canada and Alaska), and extreme north-eastern Siberia. Their name for themselves is Inuit (in Siberian and some Alaskan speech, Yuit), meaning "the people". The name Eskimo, considered derogatory, comes from the descriptive term for "eaters of raw flesh", inaccurately applied to them by an Algonquian people.  

Sources and links: 

More Folk Art and Native Art on this site:

Back to Index

Navigation (in separate window)

Homepage Art History on Stamps

Search Google

Revised 24-jul-2006. Ann Mette Heindorff
Copyright © 1999-2007. All Rights Reserved

Homepage Heindorffhus