This exhibition is a celebration of the life and career of Simon Tookoome (1934-2010), and is a retrospective collection of drawings, prints, and sculptures from his prime years 1975-1995.
This exhibition follows our recent small exhibition of drawings and prints that we featured online honouring the late Kananginak Pootoogook. It is difficult not to equate the loss of Simon Tookoome to his community of Baker Lake to the loss of Kananginak Pootoogook to Cape Dorset, who died just a few weeks later. Virtually the same age, both were from the nomadic generation of Inuit who had grown up in the traditional life on the land before moving into their respective settlements. In their communities, both men were founding members of the Co-operative print shops, were respected leaders in their communities — and became renowned artists.
In recent years, the difference between the careers of the two artists was directly linked to the strengths of the Co-ops in their communities. The annual collections of the Cape Dorset print shop were always very well-supported — and as an active and leading contributor from 1959 to his death, the graphic work of Kananginak was sought after each year. In contrast, the Inuit of the Keewatin (tundra) were the last group of Inuit in the Arctic to become acculturated following the evacuation of the tundra in the late 1950s, and Baker Lake only began to produce prints in 1970. The graphic art was very different to what was being produced in Cape Dorset — strong imagery very much based on the myths and legends of their nomadic lives. While the art was very popular, the print shop itself suffered from a lack of continuity in direction, as they could not retain long-term managers. The last major print collection from Baker Lake was in 1990, after which the print shop closed. Simon continued to draw quietly in Baker Lake, but missed out on the international exposure of participating in the annual print exhibitions, which, being catalogued, brought the work of a community to a much larger audience than individual drawings. Sadly, the magical imagery of his art became virtually forgotten — and he lacked the respect and recognition in his later years that he so richly deserved.
Tookoome was known in his community as a skillful hunter, respected elder, justice of the peace, drumdancer, an expert with the forty-foot whip, and as a renowned artist. It was through his unique imagery in drawings, prints and sculpture that he became internationally acclaimed. He was a self-taught carver who began carving in stone and antler in the late 1960s, but it was his drawing that gave him the freedom to depict his ideas and images from his experiences of living on the land. Besides making his drawings, he also was a stone-cutter, producing the blocks for most of his prints. After moving into Baker Lake in 1968, he worked in construction, mining, fisheries, and education (teaching carving to school children), as well as being a cameraman and interviewer for the Inuit Broadcasting Corporation. For forty-five years he attended and participated in solo and group exhibitions all over the world, contributed to the annual Baker Lake print collections from 1971-1990, and his art is documented and referenced in many catalogues and publications.
His drawings are a legacy that give us a rare glimpse into his shamanic world of transformation and offer us an insight into a world that has disappeared and is now all but forgotten. We hope that this exhibition will remind our audience to his unique, innovative imagery — but will also prompt us to remember his vital contribution to Baker Lake graphics — and more importantly to Canadian Inuit art.