Interdisciplinary artist Mark Igloliorte investigates and communicates his connection to his Inuit heritage primarily through painting and drawing. Since his teens, Igloliorte has also been an avid skateboarder, a practice which also informs how he plays with a shifting relationship to the landscape and ideas of place. IAQ Contributing Editor Emily Henderson spoke with Igloliorte about working with new artistic mediums, his influences, and motion and movement.
Emily Henderson: Can you tell us about your interdisciplinary artistic process and what it’s like to frequently work with new mediums?
Mark Igloliorte: I do feel grounded in painting and drawing which gives me a base to work from and come back to. I don’t feel shy about trying new things, because I have usually already found a way of exploring it beforehand through painting. When I’m staring a project in a new medium, I will typically begin by doing sketches or paintings of what I’m thinking about before getting right into it. I think having a well-formed foundation of a sketching and painting artistic practice gives me the flexibility to be interdisciplinary. Processing my pieces through drawing is something that really interests me. I really enjoy the strong coloured pencil drawing tradition that is well-known in the Inuit art world, which I am very happy to draw inspiration from and be a part of.
EH: In the past, you’ve drawn inspiration from or worked directly with archival material and photographs. How does that influence your work today?
MI: An example of my work with archival material can go back to an early series of mine, Kayait (2008), where I studied photographs of kayaks from the turn of the century in Labrador as my source material. For me, engaging with those images was a way of connecting with my ancestry as the photos were taken in Okak along the coast of Nunatsiavut. It felt powerfully tangible to me that I was working with imagery from an archive that included my ancestors.
The archives I have been working with most recently are housed at the Museum of Anthropology at University of British Columbia campus in Vancouver. I am studying their collection of miniature kayaks. What has struck me about those pieces is the way the kayaks were covered in harpoons and depicted as a hunting boat. One of the things we talk about a lot in a university context is re-indigenizing and decolonizing our institutions, but I am also thinking about re-indigenizing and decolonizing Indigenous ways of being, such as being in a kayak. I’m interested in thinking about it as hunting boat, as the creators of these miniature kayaks did and not purely as a recreational craft the way it is understood in BC. Kayaking has become a global, viral phenomenon on every coastline throughout the world and by asserting it in my work as a hunting boat, I’m asserting it as an Inuit vessel.
EH: Your work is often a commentary on motion and movement. Why are modes of travel and vessels important to you in your artistic practice?
MI: How you experience the land is influenced by the mode of transportation you take. If you go out for a hunt on foot or by snowmobile or by dog team, all those different decisions are going to influence how you relate to the earth. With each mode of transport, you’re given a different lens of how to have that experience on the land. I think having my perception altered when I get in a kayak or hop on a skateboard is why I tend to focus on movement and vehicles, because of those different ways I am able to view the world that inevitably factor into my artistic practice.
EH: Can you speak to how you put skateboards and kayaks in conversation with each other?
MI: There’s an individual aspect to skateboarding, like kayaking, where you’re working on yourself and developing your capacity to experience the world in new and interesting ways. There’s a personal drive to do these things, but the other part, which is just as important, is that there’s a community that you belong to and are participating in. Kayaking is a form of participation with the Inuit community and the act of skateboarding is participation with the skateboarding community. Growing up, I learned how to skateboard through other boarders, and since I’ve been kayaking in Vancouver, a friend of mine taught me how to do the “Eskimo roll”.
Even though both vehicles come from two different cultures, I like the idea of being able to use your entire body to actively participate as a member of that culture. As a skateboarder, I am using my body to participate just by picking up a skateboard and pushing it around. As an Inuk, I consider kayaking to be a really great way to engage with my identity as an Indigenous person. It’s not that everybody has to go kayaking, but I think that’s one way we can take ownership of our Indigeneity.
EH: What works of yours are going to be featured in the Art Toronto exhibition with Marion Scott Gallery?
MI: My drawing series titled Kayak Design on a Skateboard on a Drafting Table (2017) will be shown, along with a series of topographical maps in oil paint that I have overlaid with words in Inuttitut. The titles for those works are Pulâttik Angiggak (2019), Kasilik SekKuk (2019), and kavisilik Uvinik (2019). My film project, Eskimo Roll (2017) will also be looped during the exhibition.
This interview has been edited for clarity and condensed.