Annie Pootoogook

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Annie Pootoogook
Photo of Annie Pootoogook.jpg
Born(1969-05-11)May 11, 1969
DiedSeptember 19, 2016(2016-09-19) (aged 47)
AwardsSobey Art Award

Annie Pootoogook (May 11, 1969 – September 19, 2016) was a Canadian Inuk artist known for her pen and coloured pencil drawings.[1] In her art, Pootoogook often portrayed the experiences of those who lived in her community of Cape Dorset (Kinngait), in Northern Canada and occurrences that she herself experienced.

Early life and education[edit]

Annie Pootoogook was born on May 11, 1969 in Cape Dorset (Kinngait), Canada. Pootoogook grew up in a middle-class family whose wealth came primarily from their artistic practices.[2] Her family worked in multiple mediums and styles and Pootoogook became interested in art at an early age. Her mother Napachie Pootoogook was an Inuk draftswoman and her father Eegyvudluk Pootoogook was a printmaker and stone sculptor. Pootoogook was the granddaughter of Pitseolak Ashoona a renowned graphic artist, the niece of printmaker Kananginak Pootoogook and the cousin of draftswoman Shuvinai Ashoona.[3]

Artistic career[edit]

Pootoogook began making art in 1997 at the age of 28. She worked with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative (previously known as Kinngait Studios) in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.[3] In her early career with the Co-operative she was not given any artistic freedom.[4]

The 2000s were Pootoogook's most productive years. It was between 2001 and 2007 that Pootoogook was the most prolific in her art making. She worked as an independent artist during this period, leaving the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in 2001. During this time, she drew intimate home interior scenes depicting alcoholism, violence, and domestic abuse, the everyday experiences of a women living in the Canadian North, the hardships faced by Northern communities, and the impact of technology on traditional Inuit life. Pootoogook solidified her style and content during this period beginning to draw images that could be easily attributed to her. She created over 1000 works on paper and it was during this time that she began to be recognized as an artist outside of the Inuit community.[5]

Pootoogook had a small exhibition in 2003 at The Feheley Art Gallery.[6] This was her first solo exhibition and was important for her career because it made her name more widely known.

Subject matter[edit]

Pootoogook was known for her drawings created in pen and coloured pencils that depict contemporary Inuit life.[1] Inuit life and experiences influenced her career immensely, providing her with the subject matter that she would later render. Her work primarily focused on three subject types: the everyday experiences of women living in the Canadian North, the hardships faced by Northern communities and the impact of technology on traditional Inuit life.[2] In addition, her work often juxtaposes intimate home interior scenes with scenes of alcoholism, violence, and domestic abuse – lessening the safety of the home.

Her work is largely inspired by her mother Napachie Pootoogook and her grandmother Pitseolak Ashoona, both of whom are well known Inuit artists. Like her mother and grandmother, Pootoogook worked in the Inuit tradition of sulijuk which means "it is true." This means that she depicted life as she saw it without adding too much of her hand into the composition.

Pootoogook is noted for titling her work for exactly what they depict, e.g. "Man Abusing his Partner", where a man is shown abusing his wife.


Pootoogook's compositions utilize minimal line drawings with figures posed in frontal or profile views.[1] The artist utilizes one-point perspective to create the illusion of depth but manipulates this depth by flattening the perspective of the subjects.[1] Her images often display large expanses of white space with muted colour schemes.[1] Her work has been described as "rudimentary"' and "child-like" as it does not maintain any realism of form or space.[5] According to art critics Bloom and Glasberg, "Her preferred medium of 'primitive' or child's crayon also refers back to the art market that has brought her recognition and success and suggests an untold story of pressured adaptation."[1]

Pootoogook often included clocks in her work which has made them a motif that is associated with her work and allows for easy attribution. Her work captures a moment in time which is an important theme to Pootoogook. It is unknown why time plays an important role in Pootoogook's work. Nevertheless, the clock motif has been agreed upon by scholars to be artistically important to her work.[citation needed]

Pootoogook's compositions are not reproducible which acts against traditional printmaking practices of Inuit art in which copies are made to be sold and dispersed.[5] Therefore, her work is not as widely represented as there is only one original copy of each work.

Dr. Phil[edit]

Annie Pootoogook's most notable work is Dr. Phil, which shows a young girl watching the American television show by the same name in her home in Kinngait, Nunavut. This composition is an archetypal drawing by Pootoogook which shows the influence of Western technology on Northern communities. It also includes the clock motif, and appears in a similar style to Pootoogook's other works. Pootoogook's use of a popular television personality made this composition well-liked in its own right. Traditionally, Inuit art often shows typical activities of Northern communities such as hunting, fishing and spiritual gatherings. Her use of non-traditional imagery appeals to contemporary art collectors who often are not interested in traditional Inuit art or practices of living.[6]

Recognition and awards[edit]

Pootoogook had her first major solo exhibition in 2006 when her work was displayed as part of a well-received show at The Power Plant in Toronto, Ontario.[7] The exhibition, designed by Nancy Campbell, focused on mythology, Inuit communities and difficulties of life in the Arctic.[6]

In November 2006 she won the Sobey Art Award and was granted the prize of $50,000 (CDN).[8] The Sobey Award is granted to an artist who is 39 years of age or younger and has shown their work in a public or commercial gallery in Canada in the past 18 months, at the time of their application. The press release announcing Pootoogook's win noted that "her work reflects both the current moment of a specific tradition and of a contemporary drawing practice."[8]

After winning the Sobey Award she continued to receive exposure. She exhibited in major art shows such as the Biennale de Montreal, Art Basel and Documenta 12. Pootoogook was the first Inuit artist to participate in Documenta – an exhibition of contemporary art held in Kassel, Germany.[9]

From 2009 to 2010 her work was shown in solo exhibitions at multiple galleries including the Agnes Etherington Art Centre (Kingston, Ontario), the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, D.C.) and the George Gustav Heye Centre (Manhattan, New York). In 2010 her work was also exhibited at the Biennale of Sydney.

Pootoogook participated in one her last exhibitions in 2012 at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Curated by Denise Markonish, the exhibition titled Oh, Canada, showcased 62 Canadian artists including the work of Pootoogook's cousin Shuvinai Ashoona[10][11][12] Pootoogook was the only professional artist from the Ottawa region represented in the exhibition.


Annie Pootoogook is represented by the small Toronto gallery, Feheley Fine Arts. They are the gallery primarily responsible for cataloguing and selling her work.

Annie Pootoogook's art began to be widely collected by Canadian art institutions in 2006 after she won The Sobey Award. The Art Gallery of Ontario (Toronto, Ontario), The National Gallery of Canada (Ottawa, Ontario), and Feheley Fine Arts (Toronto, Ontario) all hold significant collections of Pootoogook's work.


Pootoogook was found dead in the Rideau River in Ottawa on September 19, 2016 in what police declared as a suspicious death.[13][6][14]

Her body was sent back to Cape Dorset where a funeral was held in her home village.[3] The service was performed entirely in her native language of Inuktitut. Pootoogook's youngest daughter was able to go the funeral and this was the first time she met her extended Inuit family.[3]

After her death, the lead investigator on the case, Sergeant Chris Hrnchiar posted online comments that were condemned and labelled as racist.[14] An investigation into Hrnchiar's conduct was undertaken as a result.[2] In November 2016, Hrnchiar pled guilty to two counts of discreditable conduct under the Police Services Act, and for making comments on an open investigation.[14]

In 2017, Hrnchiar met with Veldon Coburn an Anishnaabe scholar who had initially documented Hrnchiar's original online comments with a screen capture. Coburn filed a complaint leading to the charges against Hrnchiar and his demotion. Wanting to apologize for his comments, Hrnchiar asked for a meeting with Coburn stating "I'm blessed to be able to see you, to apologize to your face because I know how much it's hurt your community and the people you love." Coburn stated that he was moved by the gesture and believed that Hrnchiar was sincere in his remorse.[15]


  1. ^ a b c d e f Marching, Jane D. and Andrea Polli (2012). Far Field: Digital Culture, Climate Change, and the Poles. Chicago, IL: Intellect, The University of Chicago Press. pp. Chapter 8.
  2. ^ a b c Milroy, Sarah (23 September 2016). "Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook's work revealed the connections between us". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  3. ^ a b c d Bingham, Russell (17 December 2013). "Annie Pootoogook". The Canadian Encyclopedia.
  4. ^ Off, Carol (26 September 2016). "Stereotypes plagued Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook in life as in death, says gallerist". CBC Radio. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  5. ^ a b c "Annie Pootoogook". Feheley Fine Arts. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  6. ^ a b c d Everett-Green, Robert; Galloway, Gloria (1 October 2016). "Annie Pootoogook: A life too short, built on creativity but marred by despair". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  7. ^ Adams, James (15 August 2012). "A revolutionary Inuit artist's life imitates her art, darkly". The Globe and Mail. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  8. ^ a b "Inuit artist Pootoogook wins $50,000 Sobey Art Award". CBC News. 7 November 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  9. ^ "Cape Dorset artist gets prestigious invitation to German art show". CBC News. 2 November 2006. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  10. ^ Balzer, David (2011). "Shuvinai Ashoona". The Believer (November/December). Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  11. ^ Tousley, Nancy. "Oh, Canada: National Dreams". Canadian Art. Retrieved 10 March 2015.
  12. ^ Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art; Markonish, Denise (2012). Oh, Canada: Contemporary art from north North America. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. ISBN 9780262018357.
  13. ^ "Inuk artist Annie Pootoogook found dead in Ottawa". CBC News. 23 September 2016. Retrieved 5 March 2017.
  14. ^ a b c "Police officer pleads guilty to making racist comments about dead Inuk artist". CBC News. 1 November 2016. Retrieved 20 April 2017.
  15. ^ "'I want to understand': Ottawa police sergeant openly apologizes for racist comments". CBC Radio. April 20, 2017.

Further reading[edit]

  • Allen, Jan. Annie Pootoogook: Kinngait Compositions. Kingston, ON: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, 2011. ISBN 9781553392606
  • Campbell, Nancy. Annie Pootoogook: cutting ice = Ini Putugu: tukistittisimavuq takusinnggittunik. Fredericton, NB: Goose Lane Editions with McMichael Canadian Art Collection, 2017. ISBN 9781773100692