On Thursday, May 31, 2018 Inuit Art Quarterly staff met with Martha Kyak during Indigenous Fashion Week in Toronto. They discussed what being part of Indigenous Fashion Week means to Martha and how her sought-after sealskin necklace came to be.
Inuit Art Quarterly: Can you tell us about how you got started?
Martha Kyak: I’ve always been an artist. Most of my family are artists and my mother was, like most Inuit women were, a very traditional seamstress. My mother was a perfectionist, and she always told us that you have to take your time and do it properly all the time. You can’t just rush into sewing you have to do it properly and with excellence. That is how I am with my sewing.
I’ve always done sewing and I’ve always been very artistic. When I moved to Ottawa, I was away from family and friends a lot of time and it felt like I had more time than I had before in Pond Inlet. I started painting and I started sewing and people seemed to really like it and wanted more and more of it, so I just started making more.
I really like the texture of sealskin and how pretty it is and, so I made a dress for a fashion show I had last year. This dress had a fringe all the way down that comes with the dress. I also teach at Nunavut Sivuniksavut and there was a photoshoot with sealskin. Most of the students wanted to use that dress and agreed to bring it. I brought it and they did the photoshoot with it and they sort of stretched it and I didn’t like it anymore, and the fashion show was in a few days or few weeks I can’t remember. And I need this dress so I cut out the fringe, because they damaged the seams. I decided to cut that sealskin part and made it into this necklace that can be worn on any dress. That is how those long fringe necklaces came about, it started by accident.
A few days ago when I was making one and I was thinking that these are like warrior necklaces for Inuit women, especially. We are always just going in and against because of the sealskin and the fur, but it is also so much part of our culture and our lives. So this is a statement, it’s our right in a very quiet way.
IAQ: You work a lot with sealskin, would you say that is your main medium?
Most of the time, but I also make parkas. Recently, I have made floral parkas. I really like designs from the 1920s, the long parkas that have fur on the cuffs, and I mix that up with Inuit designs. I make 1920s era mixed with Inuit designs and they turned out really nice. I also make parkas with sealskin and I call that a retro-parka coat because it looks like a 1960s era design, which I try to capture that and combine it with Inuit.
I also really like how Inuit use their bias tapes and sew with them and that is what I use to make too and I’m going to continue making those. It is a very traditional Inuit design.
IAQ: What does being part of Indigenous Fashion Week mean to you?
I just was so busy with work cause because it was just exam time, graduation and selecting new students for next year. So I didn’t really think about it. I would get home and sew and get ready and prepare for this event. Yesterday, finally when I arrived I realized ‘Oh I’m here.’ I was a bit intimidated because these are all these design teams and I’m just a lone person. I had to talk to a friend who assured me it is okay.
Now I’m really excited that I am here and I look forward to meeting the designers. I met some of the Greenlandic designers, and we are able to speak in our language ‘Inuktitut’ so that was exciting for me.