Canadian Art: Stories Not Told

Featured image: Annie Pootoogook, Sobey Award 2006, 2007. Coloured pencil and ink on paper. 68 x 50.1 cm.

Annie Pootoogook is arguably one of the most famous Inuk artists in Canada,” I said to the crowd. “She won many prizes and was shown in national galleries, yet still lived in the street economies of Ottawa.” I paused. “Recently, her body was found in the Rideau River.” Following Pootoogook’s death, a forensic officer from the Ottawa Police made derogatory comments about her on a public Facebook post, igniting national outrage about racist Canadian institutions that have a negative impact on the dignity and lives of Inuit. News articles circulated with images of Pootoogook in the streets of Ottawa creating her drawings. These images perpetuated the white saviour mythos that follows Pootoogook’s work—a narrative that settlers project on many urban Inuit, as if to say, Look at all Pootoogook has overcome! She has been street-involved and, despite it all, possesses this beautiful, creative universe within her mind. Of course, the white saviour gaze is dehumanizing and exploitative. It’s not concerned with oh, say, organizing for the livelihood, secure housing or continued well-being of street-involved Inuit in Ottawa, including Pootoogook. The white saviour gaze is only concerned with creating a romanticized vision of Inuit artists, one they may discursively exploit and circulate forevermore, to serve their agenda of psychic conquest. Thus spoke the pseudo-logic that is white liberalism.

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