Jan 1 – Aug 31, 2014
Drum dancing was central to Inuit celebrations. A drum dance might mark a birth, a boy’s first hunt, a wedding, a funeral, or any other occasion that was important to the community.
The drum, about a yard in diameter, was made of caribou skin stretched over a wooden or bone frame with a handle. The drum would be beaten on the frame, not the skin, producing a resonant thumping noise. The drumming was frequently accompanied by singing, either by the drummer or by the onlookers.
Inuit art from all communities featured drum dancers. In addition to human drum dancers, we find shaman drum dancers (see Judas Ullulaq’s female shaman drum dancer) and shamans who have transformed into animals drum dancing (see Joseph Suqslaq and Louie Makkituq’s bear shaman drum dancers). The sheer ecstasy of the drum dancer is best captured by Axangayu Shaa in a sculpture that is itself a tour de force of precarious balance.
This range is reflected in graphic images as well. Jesse Oonark’s “Gathering for the Big Drum Dance” shows people assembling in a large igloo, the traditional venue, while David Ruben Piqtoukun’s “As the Sun Sets” shows equally ecstatic human, raven and wolf drum dancers in a stylized igloo at sunset.
Click here to see a video of a drum dancer.