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Two Bears Hunting

Two Bears Hunting, 1959Stonecut on paper, 14/50
40.6 x 45.8 cm
Gift of Barbara Hinds, Halifax, Nova Scotia, 2009

Niviaksiak was born in 1908 and died in Cape Dorset in 1959.  His early death ended a promising career in art, fed by the printmaking that began in Cape Dorset in 1957 with the aid of James Houston.  A renowned sculptor, Niviaksiak was one of the first Inuit artists to make a print and despite his short career in the early and experimental period of the Cape Dorset co-op, made some truly incredible works.  His prints and sculptures have been exhibited at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Simon Fraser Gallery, and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.  Niviaksiak’s art is held in the collections of the Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal, the Museum of Modern Art (New York), the Winnipeg Art Gallery, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the McMichael Canadian Art Collection, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art (New York).

Two Bears Hunting is the AGNS’ first Niviaksiak polar bear image, a subject that has attained mythical connotations when associated with this artist. The interaction between the bears and the all but invisible ground is clear by their placement, and they are reflective of an artist truly familiar with their appearance and habits.

Niviaksiak gained notoriety due to the story published about his death, which occurred while he and a companion were hunting a polar bear,
After several hours they finally caught sight of him. As they crept closer, the bear, instead of running, turned and gazed squarely at them. Niviaksiak moved in, raised his rifle to fire, then faltered and shrieked: "It's dark. I'm falling!" Without firing, he collapsed on the snow, died within minutes.

The next day, when Niviaksiak's companion and others returned to bury him, they found his body unmauled; the bear had not even come near him. Among Cape Dorset people there was only one explanation: Niviaksiak's art had probed too near, had offended the spirit of the great polar bear.” [Time Magazine, Monday, February 22, 1960]
While the nature of Niviaksiak's death generated a great deal of comment and myth-making, his artistry and talent remain for the enjoyment of all.
Shannon Parker
Curator of Collections
Tel 902 424 8457
Fax 902 424 0750