Born around 1910, in the Chantrey Inlet / Back River area of Nuvanut, north-west of Hudson Bay, Marion Tuu’luq belonged to a traditional, semi-nomadic group of Inuit who lived, according to the season, in tents or snow houses. When the threat of starvation in the 1960s compelled them to leave the land and move into the settlement of Baker Lake, Tuu’luq acknowledged that she was relieved to have escaped the extremities of her life on the land. But she also felt profound sadness at no longer being able to follow the rhythms of the nomadic life, at no longer experiencing the beauty of life on the very edge of the stark quest for survival. These elements loom large in her work, which is peopled by a profusion of human, animal and spirit figures linked in motifs expressing a unified vision of traditional contemporary Inuit life.
Marion Tuu'luq, Untitled, c. 1976. Felt, embroidery floss, and thread on duffle, 122 x 103.5 cm. National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. Gift of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1989. Photo © NGC.
According to Tuu'luq, the oft-repeated image of a human face has no particular meaning - it existed in her mind since before she started producing art - but it centralizes her compositions for the viewer in a spellbinding way. In many works, her figures spiral around a human face. When speaking about "Untitled", Tuu'luq told two stories: one of the sun woman and her brother, Aningnat, who was the man in the moon, and the other about a mermaid, Takanasalupsu, who inhabits the waters at Back River and possibly Baker Lake. "That fish swallows anything and cannot be caught. I've felt it before on my line. But I've heard that if someone catches it with a hook, that creature takes off the hook herself. She's an old lady-fish. I'm not the only one who felt that fish." Tuu'luq once expressed the wish that she could be a fish so her life would be lively and full of fun. If she were a fish, she said, she would tease the fishermen.
Marion Tuu'luq, People and Graylings, 1974. Colour stonecut and stencil on laid japan paper, 95 x 64 cm.National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa Gift of the Department of Indian Affairs and Northern Development, 1989 Photo © NGC