Angakkuq: Inuit Shaman

In the shamanic belief system, every living thing has a "soul", or life-force that exists independently of its physical form. When the physical body of an animal or human dies, the soul normally passes out of the corporeal and into a spiritual realm. However, there are abnormal circumstances in which souls become angry, stolen or lost, causing illness, accident, sterility, starvation or other misfortunes. Important hunting and death rites helped people avoid angering potentially dangerous souls or spirits.

This exhibition features a selection of the many sculptures, prints, and drawings in the WAG Collection that depict the Inuit shaman and his or her activities. Most depict the shaman in human/animals transformation, with birds most often seen as helping spirits. The polar bear is another frequent image. The bear is an important presence in Inuit mythology and there were numerous taboos ruling its hunting. As the bear was dan¬gerous in life, its soul was also dangerous and had to be treated with the care of a human soul. Other animals seen in transfor¬mation in the exhibition are caribou, muskoxen, walruses, seals, fish, and whales.

Other works show the shaman with Taleelayuk (or Nuliajuk), the sea spirit which controlled the supply of animals to hunters. Others show the shaman in seance, dumming, singing, or chanting. The artworks are from all areas of the Canadian Arctic, in many different media, by men and women, young and elderly. Although shamanism is no longer practiced by modern-day Inuit, the prevalence of the subject in the art indicates the importance once held by this seminal figure in Inuit culture.


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