Koomuatuk Curley was born in Nanisivik but grew up in his family’s original home in Cape Dorset. Beginning at the age of eight years old, he was taught how to carve by his grandfather Qaqaq Ashoona and many uncles and great uncles in the world famous art centre in Cape Dorset. His favorite media for work is serpentine stone from the Cape Dorset quarries, but he also carves whale bone, ivory, marble, granite and bronze, and equally well on a small and large scale, from miniatures to monuments. He now lives in Woodlawn, Ontario, where he is pursuing his carving career. He strongly believes in the future of Inuit art and takes his practice very seriously.
This carving is about Elders and how they guide us with their knowledge. Science is not new to the Arctic. It began long ago, with Inuit ancestors observing the world and sharing their thoughts with younger generations. Today, modern technology and universities are the popular images associated with science and learning. But it is our Elders who continue to urge Inuit knowledge forwards, guiding the powerful force of our culture like the Elder in my carving leads her bear.
Our people have a strong relationship with the nanuq (polar bear). We respect them for their strength, and as the most powerful hunters on land and sea. In the past, Inuit adopted bears like they do children. My carving illustrates one popular story of a grandmother who adopted a bear cub. I know this story is not a myth, as my grandfather also adopted one. After the nanuq grew and left, he would return to my grandfather almost every year.
The nanuq is meaningful to me as a symbol in my art. Like knowledge, bears are a source of power, history and memory that our Elders respect. They also symbolize the environment that our ancestors have learned to live with in harmony. With the Arctic facing threats such as climate change and the disappearance of traditional languages and culture, the bear stands for what is being lost to Inuit.
I usually use power tools in my work, but made this carving with only chisels, files, sandpaper and patience. It was with patience that my grandfather Qaqaq Ashoona taught me carving at a young age. When I carve, I think of my grandfather and the ancestors that came before him. Through carving, I honour them by following their teachings and their respect for Arctic animals and ways of life.