Canada’s Inuit have a long history of tattooing that stretches back several thousand years. However, once the Canadian Arctic was colonized, the practice of tattooing faded almost entirely after being discouraged by missionaries. By the early twentieth century, few Inuit were continuing the practice. After the introduction of graphic art to the Arctic in the late 1950s by James Houston, many Inuit artists began depicting, and therefore recording, cultural practices such as tattooing that were in danger of being lost altogether. These artworks now act, alongside oral histories, explorer accounts, and photographs, as documents of a once thriving cultural practice. Inuit tattooing is now beginning to see a contemporary resurgence, with a number of Inuit women, such as Alethea Arnaquq-Baril, getting their own facial tattoos. Nevertheless, drawings and prints by Inuit graphic artists have become an essential part of the recording this practice’s history.
Jessie Oonark, Tattooed Women, 1960
Pitseolak Ashoona, Tattooed Woman, 1963
Peter Pitseolak, Tattooed Woman, 1975
Arnaqu Ashevak, Tattooed Women, 2008