Ishulutaq was born in 1925, and as one of the oldest living artists in Panniqtuuq (Pangnirtung), NU, she bears witness to a cultural shift that has happened in tandem with shifts in climate—a shift from a traditional lifestyle towards an increasing industrialization of the Arctic and pressure to participate in a Southern capitalist commodity culture. I’m left to imagine the impact of this shift on the way the natural world is observed and perceived across generations—it’s clear Ishulutaq is attuned to the changing land, having spent nine decades on the permafrost.
It’s also clear in the work of Jaco Ishulutaq, Elisapee’s son and a carver since the age of 16, that the relentless progression of climate change is being contemplated in rhythm with the work of the chisel. In Ishulutaq’s carving, Global Warming (2010), bone thrusts upward from murky soapstone water. Though iceberg- like, upright, the natural curvature of a walrus skull evokes holes, as if the skull is tender ice, ridden with fractures, melts, and fissures. Creatures from the water below swim upward across the surface of the bone-ice—a fish, a polar bear, a narwhal. Meanwhile, human hands reach across the dark waters. The creatures swarm, but the walrus-skull structure maintains a deep sense of balance and integrity, making it unclear if the hands (and the ivory leaves sprouting from the water alongside them) are reaching out as a call to action, or to desperately hold each other. Both seem apt. Perhaps, more literally, they are an indication that Indigenous peoples across Canada are already acting against climate change, against environmental imperialism and a structural push to industrialize and commodify their lands.