Drawing for print Memories of Childbirth 1976
Pitseolak Ashoona, drawing for print Memories of Childbirth, 1976
Coloured felt-tip pen on paper
24.1 x 35.6 cm
Collection of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative Ltd., on loan to the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, Ontario
In this original drawing for the print Memories of Childbirth, Pitseolak shows a woman in labour, kneeling and surrounded by three women who hold her hands and support her back. The syllabics read “Pitseolak” and “Here she is about to give birth.” In Pictures Out of My Life (1971), Pitseolak recounts, “When Namoonie, my first son, was born, three women held me.”
The ambiguous placement of her name on the drawing makes it unclear whether Pitseolak is signing the work or is referring to herself as the woman giving birth in the image. This ambiguity appears accidental but may instead reflect a way of representing the self. Here, although Pitseolak recalls her own life, she does not openly express this in terms such as “this is me” or “this happened to me.” Rather, her personal experience is translated into an image of how Inuit women traditionally gave birth.
As an elder in the close-knit camps, one who had lived most of her life on the land before moving to Cape Dorset and becoming an artist, Pitseolak vacillated between depicting her personal experiences and depicting those she shared with women in general. Calling attention to oneself, particularly for women, was not encouraged in traditional camp society. In addition, childbirth was surrounded by rigid societal taboos. Pitseolak tackles such subjects in her images of women’s daily experiences and of practices such as midwifery, thus recording the cultural knowledge of Inuit women.
The original drawing was made into a print in 1976, but the print was not approved by the Canadian Eskimo Arts Council, the body of experts that juried all prints from the government-funded print studios. It was finally released in 1994 and included in the exhibition Cape Dorset Revisited at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinburg, Ontario, and as part of a special edition alongside the annual Cape Dorset print collection. This late release may reflect a change in attitudes and a greater interest in and acceptance of subject matter relating to women’s experiences.