Inuit Art

October 20, 2021

The arts are a vital element of Inuit culture and traditions, and the history of Inuit cultures and the art of various regions and times can only be understood if the myth of a homogeneous Inuit culture is discarded altogether. Arctic artisans make decorative art by sewing skins or inscribing on utensils. Recent innovations in Inuit art, such as soapstone carving, printmaking, and wall hangings, stem from traditional skills, sometimes using new materials or techniques.1

For decades, Inuit art has played an integral role in the Northern economy and contributed millions of dollars to the regional economy. Cape Dorset in Nunavut is known as the “Capital of Inuit Art” and one out of five workers there are employed in the arts.

Largely owing to the insights and promotional energy of James A. Houston, a young artist from Toronto, Inuit art as we know it today came into existence in 1948-49. He encouraged the Inuit to use their “natural talents” in creating art objects to help solve their economic problems. In this regard, they were assisted by the Inuit Co-operatives.2 Although Inuit co-operatives are multipurpose, involved in retail stores, hotels, restaurants, tourism, construction projects, and the provision of municipal services, their most successful activity has been the production of stone carvings and limited edition prints for sale in an international market. The cottage industry production of stone sculpture is a significant source of income in small northern communities, a felicitous solution to dependence upon a boom-and-bust fur cycle.3

The  Inuit Art Foundation (IAF) supports Inuit artists and the development and appreciation of Inuit art and promotes Inuit artists from all four northern regions (Inuvialuit, Nunavut, Nunavik and Nunatsiavut) in Canada and internationally. As an example of one of its initiatives, in July 2017, the Government of Canada officially transferred the responsibility for the management of the Igloo Tag trademark to the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF). Established in 1958 by the Canadian government, the Igloo Tag Trademark has been the internationally-recognized symbol of authenticity for Inuit visual arts for over six decades. This decision was taken after extensive consultations with members of the Inuit art industry. The objective of this transfer is to increase the Inuit art community’s ability to regulate art in a way that benefits Inuit artists and helps preserve the values of Inuit cultural heritage for generations to come. Now, for the first time in its history, the Igloo Tag is led by Inuit to ensure the protection of the Inuit art market.4, 5

  1. 2021. Arctic Indigenous Peopls in Canada | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].
  2. 2021. Inuit Art | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].
  3. 2021. Inuit Co-operatives | The Canadian Encyclopedia. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].
  4. 2021. Inuit. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].
  5. Inuit Art Foundation. 2021. Igloo Tag Trademark. [online] Available at: [Accessed 1 February 2021].