Barnabus Arnasungaaq

father and child Inuit Art Sculpture in basalt

Born: 1924     Male

Born in Baker Lake, Barnabus Arnasungaaq was one of the first participants in the Baker Lake carving program in the early 1960s and his work has been an influence in his community and on the art of the Keewatin for four decades.

Barnabus Arnasungaaq was married to graphic artist and carver Fanny Arngnakik. Their sons David and Norman are carvers as well.

Although he created a number of prints and drawings during his career, Barnabus is first and foremost recognized as a leading figure in contemporary Inuit sculpture.  Showing with the first exhibition of the art of the Keewatin held at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 1964, he has continued to make work that embodies that wonderful ideographic quality that we have come to associate with the tundra artistic communities.

The hard black basalt stone particular to the region of Baker Lake was not a stone that lent itself easily to perforation or fine detail, however the Keewatin artists defined readily identifiable personal styles where emphasis was placed on tactile quality and a certain monumentality and timelessness of image. He prefers using simple hand tools that allow him to fully sense the stone and its natural materiality, and he shuns the use of masks or safety goggles that obscure his ability to work. The sculpture of Barnabus has a stoic enduring quality and remarkable presence that has found a large audience around the world.

Barnabus always took his role as a mentor seriously and encouraged younger carvers to cherish their authenticity. He once said : “To the new generation of Inuit carvers, here and across Nunavut, I recommend this: carve the way you want, and not the way the white man tells you – remember you are an Inuit.” (Barnabus Arnasungaaq in Milich 1995:21)

Unfortunately, Barnabus Arnasungaaq passed away in Baker Lake, western Hudson Bay, Nunavut, on September 21st , 2017 at the age of 93.

Over the course of his career, Barnabus has been featured in over 100 group and solo shows in Canada, the United States, and internationally. Today, Barnabus’ work can be found in important collections such as the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center, the UBC Museum of Anthropology, and the National Gallery of Canada, the Dennos Museum Center, the Canadian Museum of Civilization, the Peary-MacMillan Arctic Museum and much more.