|Inuksuit are among the most important objects created by the Inuit who were the first people to inhabit portions of Alaska, Arctic Canada, and Greenland. The term Inuksuk (the singular of Inuksuit) means 'to act in the capacity of a human.' It is an extension of Inuk, meaning 'a human being.
These stone figures were placed on the temporal and spiritual landscapes. Among many practical functions, they were employed as hunting and navigation aids, coordination points, indicators, and message centers. The Inuit also constructed a stone figure called an Inunnguaq which means 'in the likeness of a human.' In addition to their earthly functions, certain Inuksuk-like figures had spiritual connotaions, and were objects of veneration, often marking the threshold of the spiritual landscape of the Inummariit -- the Inuit who knew how to survive on the land living in their traditional way.
So compelling was the desire of the Inummariit to create Inuksuit that they appear not only on the earthly landscape but in legends and stories, in figures that emerge from the movements of fingers playing string games; and in a winter-sky constellation.
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|Many Inuit who lived most of their lives on the land retain a strong attachment to Inuksuit believed to have been built by their ancestors. Some of these 'old' Inuksuit are mentioned in Aya-yait, the traveling songs passed from one generation to the next to help travelers remember a series of directions for long trips. Often these old Inuksuit are venerated regardless of their function. Even today, the appearance of familiar Inuksuit on the landscape is a welcome sight when one is a long way from home.
Whether they symbolized their maker, acted in his capacity, or were the object of veneration, Inuksuit functioned as helpers and messages created by an infinite arrangement of stones. They were an intergral part of the hunters' language and endure as indelible signatures upon the Arctic landscape.
It was on a bright blustery day on the southwest coast of Baffin in 1994 that I met Judy Burch. It was apparent that she was well liked by many of the famous carvers whose work she promoted in the south. I was equally impressed by her insatiable curiosity that led her to study many aspects of Inuit culture. She was truly smitten by the Arctic as the intrepid souls were who preceded her.
|My association with Judy Burch has remained as solid as the granite upon which we stood on the first day we met. We've worked together on numerous projects and made presentations at some of the most prestigious institutions on the continent. Her devotion to Inuit Art and to the artists is an inspiration to every one who knows her. It gave me great pleasure to share with her the knowledge I gained from my Inuit elders, especially knowledge about those mysterious stone figures in the Arctic known as Inuksuit.
Below: Created by Norman Hallendy for Arctic Inuit Art, Richmond, VA