“My goal was to be the Louis Vuitton of tufting.”
On Wednesday, May 30, 2018 Inuit Art Quarterly staff went bead shopping with Inuk 360 as she prepared for Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto. They discussed what being part of Indigenous Fashion Week means to Inuk and why educating audiences about sealskin and other materials is important. Below is a condensed interview.
Inuit Art Quarterly: What does being part of Indigenous Fashion Week mean for you?
Inuk 360: For me I’m very excited to be a small part of Indigenous Fashion Week, just to be among so many artistic minds and people and to be inspired, rejuvenated and share. I also won’t have to explain my artistic mind because I’ll be around like-minded people; Indigenous people, Indigenous women and men and it’s really cool when you get a couple of us together. IFW is a lot of us coming together from all over the place. We follow each other on social media but to be able to finally meet some of them in person is amazing. I’m super excited. Many are super excited to meet me but I’m super excited to meet a lot of the artists who are coming in and will be part of the fashion shows, and the market and the workshops. I’m so excited to learn about something new with the Raven’s Tail Weaving from Haida Gwaii. Can’t wait to start that one.
IAQ: Do you have a favourite event that you are most looking forward to?”
Inuk 360: Oh that’s a tough one. Start to finish. I’m excited to see an Indigenous Fashion show in real life and I’m excited to see the designers that are coming down the runway. For me, since I wanted to be a designer since I was a little girl, I think that is ultimately the most exciting part is to be a part a little part of that, to see it live and see some of these amazing talents come down the runway. To be inspired by them, and someday my clothes will be there. I think that will be probably the highlight of the trip, seeing this with my own two eyes and soaking it all up.
IAQ: Why do you choose to work with the materials you do?
Inuk 360: I started off with caribou hair tufting because I have a natural talent and was born to tuft. So my number one thing in life is tufting. I always say anything else I make and create is a bonus. I decided to come out of the gates as a tufter and be different and break trails and make statements by the type of art shows that I went to. And make it a long career by becoming the best tufter I could be–the Louis Vuitton of the tufting world. After many years they say I reached that goal and then I decided to try different tactics because the world needs to know how sustainable our fur and leather is ultimately. There are so many things that are built for the necessity of being out on the land. We can still look good, but you have to be warm so it’s practicality but also what do we use with the little bits. So you can make earrings, cuffs. Nothing’s wasted.
When I come out to a show or speak, the biggest thing [I focus on] is education about sustainable furs, whether it is sealskin, moose hide or fox. So that the rest of the world outside of the north understand that our animals are killed humanely and the whole animal is used and it is a way of life. When people say no to our sealskin or to our fur that is actually affecting our livelihoods. We have no other choice than to become obese, because it is cheaper to buy a can of pop then it is to buy an orange in a lot of the high arctic communities. So people that sustain themselves for a thousands of years on sealskin can’t, they can still hunt it and eat the meat but imagine the finances that they could have if they could be able to sell what they to the outside world and finance that.
I’m self sustained and self sufficient, I survive and have survived totally on my artwork and this is a huge thing. It is my life and my hands, and just on my caribou hair and tufting alone I’ve travelled around the world more than once to show and demonstrate how it is done and to sell my work. I didn’t wake up knowing how to do it I learned from the people around me. But the education and just wanting to share is what drives me because it is so much in my blood. So much in my blood. No other way to put it.
IAQ: Your mom also makes work, did she inspire you to start tufting?
Inuk 360: My mom was a moose hair tufter long before me, so I’ve been around tufting all my life. I was born and raised not far from from Fort Providence, NT which is known for moose hair tufting by the Dene ladies. The same nuns that taught the Dene ladies at Fort Providence taught the Inuit women at the residential schools in Aklavik, where my mom learned how to do moose hair tufting. I grew up in an era where you watched and you learned, you weren’t told to sit and do it, you watched and learned.
However, it was a high school teacher of mine, I went to residential school in Yellowknife, NT and a high school teacher of mine that I highly respected that got me started. He knew my mom was a moose hair tufter so he asked me if I could tuft and of course I was like, ‘of course I can tuft.’ But I had never tufted in my life. If it was for that teacher who wanted four traditional moose hair tuftings and I said you give me the velvet and the canvas and i’ll make those tufting for you. That’s how it all started.
I no longer know how many hours it took but definitely by the time I was done the first one I wanted to throw the whole thing out, but my mom and dad started encouraging me. My mom would say, try this thing or that, but she never told me how or what to do. Remember I’m still a teenager so I probably wouldn’t have listened very well, right? It was how my mom and dad went about it that was an influence and the encouragement started so very early on they could see i had a natural flare for tufting.
My mom and I now tuft together. You know I chased her and got to the same level and then she chased me, and got to the same level. It’s a competition from inside the house, and we have tufted side by side, but we are totally different.
I started building the Inuk 360 that is when the textiles started changing. 360 means full circle so, Inuk is on her full circle, multi-textile designs. Traditional with an Inuk twist. Learn the old way and bring it into the new ways. Best of both worlds, right?