Composition (Evil Spirit) 2003–4
Annie Pootoogook, Composition (Evil Spirit), 2003–4
Ink and pencil crayon on paper, 50.8 x 66 cm
Collection of Jay Smith and Laura Rapp
Composition (Evil Spirit) is an important work within a group of drawings representing emotional distress or elation, subjects that Annie Pootoogook took up sporadically throughout her short career. She was a very private person and rarely spoke about her work in detail. This picture was particularly hard for her to talk about. She never explained exactly what the scene refers to, and she never said whether the woman in the image is a self-portrait. In this drawing a central figure is crouching on her hands and knees with her tongue hanging out of her mouth. The young woman’s eyes are closed, and a lone tear slides from the corner of her eye down her cheek. A monstrous creature squats before her with legs splayed wide apart; it is rendered in black stripes, with red eyes and bull-like horns on its head. One black-clawed hand is gripping the woman’s throat in what seems to be a choking gesture, while the other hand pats her hair. The woman herself has black-painted fingernails. A thick, black sinuous line surrounds both the kneeling woman and the creature, balancing the composition. The end of the line that surrounds them is tied to one of the creature’s horns. Another thick black line descends from the creature’s mouth like a misshapen tongue, flowing along the woman’s own tongue and down her throat. A third black line, heavy and taut like a curving phallus, leaves the creature’s anus-like opening and passes through the woman’s arms toward her heart. Beneath the woman’s knees runs a jagged black crack.
A thought bubble floats prominently above the woman. According to Juumi Tapaungai, assistant manager of Kinngait Studios, it contains the word taqapaa in Inuktitut syllabics, meaning “exhausted” or “stressed out.” From this thought bubble radiate curvy black lines, terminating in small black spiked circles. The horrifying creature also has a spiky thought bubble above its head, one that says piapiga!, meaning “mine!” in Inuktitut. Tapaungai adds, “I’m thinking that the evil is trying to take over her life.”
This “psychological drawing” and the others that Annie made recall her struggles with her feelings and her mental health. Annie represents intensely personal emotions in a number of drawings that are constructed in this way. Typically, these drawings have a central figure or scene that radiates lines or dots or is encircled by a sinuous black line embedded with yellow, black, or red dots that signify happiness and sadness. Annie experimented with this legend of dots, lines, and stars in drawings that include Gossip, 2006, and Composition (Sadness and Relief for My Brother), 2006. Annie spoke of the release she achieved through her art: “It seems like I throw that shit out of mind and start drawing. Well, drawing makes me feel better . . . better a lot than before.”