Jessie Oonark

Jessie Oonark

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Jessie Oonark

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Jessie Oonark, OC (Inuktitut syllabics: ᔨᐊᓯ ᐅᓈᖅ; 1906 - March 2, 1985) was a Canadian Inuit artist who is best known for her wall hangings and her prints.


Oonark was born in a remote area roughly 150 km north of Baker Lake, near the Back River in Nunavut. She was married to another Inuit at a young age, but in approximately 1953 was widowed with two of her eight children still dependent on her. During this period, the annual caribou migration - on which the Caribou Inuit in the Kivalliq Region depended - shifted away from the area where she lived, leaving many Inuit to starve. Unable to support her children through hunting under such harsh conditions, she moved to Baker Lake in 1958. There, she started drawing, inspired by her children's efforts at the mission school in Baker Lake. Her first prints were published in 1960.

Despite a late start - she was 54 years old when her work was first published - she was a very active and prolific artist over the next 19 years, creating a body of work that won considerable critical acclaim and made her one of Canada's best known Inuit artists. Her style is marked by her bold use of large areas of flat colour and the attention she paid to shapes rather than to line styles. Although her medium was wall hangings and prints, her technique drew largely on traditional styles used in Inuit sewing and clothing manufacture.

Following surgery in 1979, she lost much of her manual dexterity and produced only a...
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