Inuvialuit artist Angus Cockney’s latest project interprets the Inuit stories of the 12 year moons as passed down from his family.
Work, Ataa! Soona Luna? – or Listen! What Moon? – is designed to highlight the importance of sharing traditional knowledge through oral storytelling.
A free presentation will be held at the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Center in Yellowknife at 7:00 p.m. on Thursday, September 22.
Below, read a transcript of Cabin Radio’s full interview with Cockney, exploring how boarding school and travels across Canada helped him reconnect with traditional art.
The following transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.
Megan Miskiman: Tell me about your art history.
Angus Cockney: I’m from Tuktoyaktuk, born and raised, and spent a lot of time in the North. In my early years, we were in the golden age of residential schools. I spent 13 years there in Inuvik, moved south for many years, then moved back north in 1988.
I needed to rekindle or rediscover my Inuvialuit culture because I was separated – with residential school and living in the south, I had very little contact with the way of life and the people. Find out who I was? It wasn’t just about going back to hunting, fishing and rediscovering family members. I wanted to go further and started reading my grandfather’s book again. I was fascinated by all the traditional knowledge he had shared there. I was glad he wrote all those stories. At the time, in 88 or 89, I decided that maybe I should follow a more artistic path. I started exploring sculpting, got some rudimentary tools, and got started.
Because of this decision, I practically traveled the world – because of Inuit art and the fact that it is well known and in demand around the world. I matured along the way, as I think any artist does, and developed my own style which became very distinctive. When people see my art, whether in exhibitions or individually around the world, the adjective they use the most is that it is “different”. I guess every artist likes to be distinct and different, so I just did what I did and that’s what happened.
Did cross-country skiing to the North Pole contribute to your development as an artist?
It was an important event in the path of my life. It was coincidentally a time when I started sculpting as a hobby. Being invited to ski at the North Pole in 1989 was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I could have said no, thinking about the obstacles and challenges, but I thought it was also a great opportunity to be more visible and to propel myself into the limelight, especially in the universe art, because the main sponsor at the time happened to be Amway and, coincidentally, they sponsored the Inuit art exhibit Masters of the Arctic.
For me it was a great time, having the opportunity to ski to the North Pole and experience the real Arctic, with all the ice and difficult obstacles like pressure ridges, open water and cold. When Amway discovered that I was also an artist, they invited me to represent the Inuit in this exhibition, and that made me travel the world.
In addition to your art, you also do motivational speeches.
Yeah, it all started with that trip to the North Pole. After the expedition, we toured Canada, targeting Amway Distributors – to help them set goals, achieve them, persevere, engage, and achieve their goals through teamwork. It was their business model.
My speaking has snowballed from there to today, where I have spoken to different audiences about this experience, what has recently extended to the issue of residential schools, and so on. . I am invited here and there to talk about my experience. What I’m saying is: I could have become the victim, but I chose the path of a winner instead.
Do you think your time at boarding school played a role in your transition to art and reconnecting with your history?
They say residential schools were a dark time in Canadian history. I look at it like that, it’s only in the dark that you can see the stars. It’s just a different perspective. The media and the public know all about evil, but I want to tell the truth. I want to spin the medal – there is always an up and a down, always a front and a back. And so even with boarding school, yes, it was bad, but look at the good. This is what I pass on. And audiences generally really appreciate both sides.
Where do you currently live and do you still practice your art?
We moved to Canmore from Yellowknife in 1997 when the children were young – Jesse and Marika – because we wanted to give them more opportunities, especially in the world of sports and cross-country skiing. For them, it was a great decision, a choice we made because I saw potential in it. There you go, Jesse did the Olympic Games in 2014 and 2018 for cross-country skiing, Marika is also doing very well. They call her an influencer these days, don’t they? So they are very successful.
Part of the appeal of moving to Canmore was the lifestyle, the outdoors, running, biking, hiking, golfing, etc. So it’s a way of life that we lead. It’s a choice we make to be healthy. And I tell the public everywhere I go that if you want to be healthy, you want to stay healthy. If you want to be successful, you hang out with successful people. If you want to be dependent, you spend time with dependent people. So it was a good decision for us as a family, and especially for my art too.
What will you be doing in Yellowknife on September 22?
When I read that my grandfather had written the Twelve Moons of the Eskimo – as he calls it, which was shared by his grandfather in 1909 – I felt that I had finally acquired the necessary maturity to honor the story, and I finished the carvings. Now the marketing has begun.
The September 22 presentation is a joint venture with the Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre. They provide the venue and the space, as well as the bannock and the tea. It is a celebration of traditional knowledge. I don’t want to say too much, though, because I want to draw in the audience.
I miss the North, it’s in my blood and it’s always nice to come back to a community where the people are so welcoming. The North is so dear to me and you will definitely see it in this art project, so spread the word: Angus is on his way back.