A Nivingajuliat by Jessie Oonark

By: Palmer Jarvis

Lot 110 – Jessie Oonark ᔪᓯ ᐃᓇ, OC, RCA (1906-1985), Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), UNTITLED (WOMAN), 1972-1975, wool, felt, thread, embroidery floss; signed in syllabics verso. 50 x 32 in — 127 x 81.3 cm. Estimate $30,000-$40,000

An artist of exceptionally fertile imagination and seemingly boundless creative energy, Jessie Oonark produced a truly remarkable body of drawings, prints and nivingajuliat (wall hangings) over her long career.

A departure from conventions of square and rectangular presentation, the present remarkable nivingajuliat, Untitled (Woman in Amauti) is a striking example from a period of experimentation in the early to mid-1970s in which Oonark investigated a series of unconventional nivingajuliat profiles, including ulus, human figures, and snow beaters. (1)

Raised by her three-times windowed mother and close relatives, an observant young Oonark learned many traditional lifeways from elders that would inform her later imagery. (2) As in the artist’s iconic print Woman from 1970, in Untitled (Woman in Amauti) Oonark has been meticulous in her translation of the three-dimensional amauti and its ritual designs into the two-dimensional imagery of the nivingajuliat.

It is notable that the abstraction and symmetry for which Oonark’s art is known is one of the defining characteristics of traditional amauti designs. In the present work Oonark has carried the amautiit compositional elements over into her portrayal of the young woman wearing it. Both figure and garment are near fully symmetrical, and united in the artist’s use of vibrant colour.

Figural profile nivingajuliat by Oonark are exceptionally uncommon. One known example was exhibited in the 1986 Winnipeg Art Gallery Jessie Oonark a Retrospective. A second, collected in Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake) in 1981 was sold at Waddington’s, June 9, 2022. Both known examples depict men whose faces are seen in side-profile. The present nivingajuliat is remarkable for its front profile depiction of a young woman.

Formerly in the collection of Canadian Arctic Producers, Untitled (Woman in Amauti) has not been seen publicly since it was displayed in the Art Gallery of Ontario’s exhibition The People Within, held in 1976.


Held online from May 24-29, 2024, Waddington’s is pleased to present our major spring auction of exceptional Inuit & First Nations Art. Important artworks this season include works of sculpture and graphics by Karoo Ashevak, Jessie Oonark, Kiakshuk, John Pangnark, Pauta Saila, Aisa Qupirualu Alasua, Parr, Osuitok Ipeelee, Kiugak Ashoona, Joe Talirunili, John Kavik, Kenojuak Ashevak, Johnny Inukpuk, Thomas Ugjuk, Ennutsiak, Davidialuk Alasua Amittu, Beau Dick, Charlie James, David Ruben Piqtoukun, Abraham Apakark Anghik, Manasie Akpaliapik, Judas Ullulaq, Barnabus Arnasungaaq, and John Tiktak.

Previews will be available at our Toronto gallery, located at 275 King Street East, Second Floor, Toronto:

Thursday, May 23 from 10 am to 5 pm
Friday, May 24 from 10 am to 5 pm
Saturday, May 25 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Sunday, May 26 from 12 pm to 4 pm
Monday, May 27 from 10 am to 5 pm
Tuesday, May 28 from 10 am to 5 pm
Or by appointment.

Please contact us for more information

(1) Jean Blodgett and Marie Bouchard, Jessie Oonark: A Retrospective (Winnipeg: Winnipeg Art Gallery, 1986), 65.
(2) Blodgett and Bouchard, Jessie Oonark, 8.

Related Works:
Waddington’s Auctioneers, Toronto, ON, 9 Jun 2022, lot 83. https://www.waddingtons.ca/auction/the-canada-auction-jun-09-2022/gallery/lot/83/

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