Sedna Speaks

13 Jun

Today marks the official opening of our newest special exhibition, The Sea Goddess, which features a variety of contemporary interpretations of the Inuit Sea Goddess. One of these sculptures is an impressive piece by Alec Lawson Tuckatuck, an innovative sculptor from Nunavik, called Sedna Speaks.

"Sedna Speaks" (2011) by Alec Lawson Tuckatuck (Kuujjuaraapik), Stone, Caribou antler, MIA Collection (photo courtesy of the artist)

His piece specifically relates Sedna to a pressing problem facing the Arctic: climate change. He says:

This is a transformation piece based on our legend of Sedna who is our Sea Goddess. Sedna controls our weather and animals in the waters, she is powerful being that we believed that we had to please and give signs of respect to for us to be able to hunt, catch and eat. It was believed that anyone who wasted food that came from Sedna’s offering would be punished for example by starvation, people who polluted the waters or disrespected it would receive another form of punishment like bad weather. Traditional beliefs in Sedna’s powers were part of every day and every moment decisions, people were reported and given warning if they were seen not respecting our land, water or animals. So it was, and still exists today somewhat, a practice by Inuit to always make use of every usable parts of animals, to catch food only as much as you need, to give offerings as signs of respect, to not take things for granted, etc.

This is a Global Waming and Climate Change awareness piece. Sedna is transforming from a Narwhal whale coming out of the water and the green tusk speaks for Sedna. There are many versions of this legend, long beautiful hair and voluptuous breasts are characteristics of Sedna’s appearance and beauty. Looking at Sedna you can see her hair going down inside the Narwhal’s body. There is a wonderful balance and harmony with this piece between traditional knowledge, meaning, history and contemporary aesthetics with consideration of today’s major concerns for Inuit in this very moment in time.

Looking at our traditional beliefs in Sedna and her abilities and how it created our practices to be respectful to our environment and to make use of the products and materials we get from our animals, I believe that we can learn a lot from this particular Inuit legend to bring change to many things today. Climate Change is obvious to Inuit because we see directly the changes in our ice, our animals, our seasonal hunting transportation changes, animal migrations routes, new plant life, new animal life. During the summer month people are using Air Conditioners now in some parts of the north. I think we can all learn from Sedna’s story and bring our own positive changes to the world.

He very kindly agreed to answer some questions I had about this piece and I’m excited to share them:

Your sculpture, Sedna Speaks, is making a strong statement about climate change in the Arctic. Is it important for you to create art with a message?

Yes, I feel it is my calling to create with messages, even my more simpler pieces have meaning behind them. I believe we as a culture, and being one of the last remaining cultures in the world to be strong and continue with our practices, language, traditional ways etc, have a very important responsibility in preserving our culture. Our last elders to live on the land as an independent and free culture are dying, these are our direct source of rich knowledge and traditions so we need to do as much as we can to learn from them. It is important for me but I believe it to be more important for our own people, our youth, and the rest of the world to learn about our highly creative culture.

For readers who aren’t aware, can you tell us a bit about how you see the environment changing in Nunavik?

It has been warming in the north much more than anyone can imagine. Although the weather patterns are still functioning around the same time of seasons, our ice are forming later in the winters, melting sooner in the spring, our summers are getting hotter to the point where air conditioners are needed in some parts of Nunavik. We’re seeing animal and plant life that never used to exist in the north, our animal migration routes are changing, our waters are showing much higher levels of contaminants, we are experiencing erratic and freak weather changes, for example having thunder and lightening storms in the middle of February. The seasonal transportation changes are changing much earlier and much later than what they used to be, our polar bears are coming in to land and closer to our communities than what they used to. We see directly the climate changes because we are still dependent on sustenance hunting for food, so we directly how ‘we’ are affected, how our animals are affected, so therefor how the world is being affected. In the south people don’t see the changes so drastically because food is provided all year long without change, transportation is the same all year without change, people don’t notice changes in the land and in our animals in the south because they don’t have to hunt them directly themselves, so it is much harder to see in the south compared to the north.

Detail of "Sedna Speaks", photo courtesy of Alec Lawson Tuckatuck

Why did you choose the narwhal as the animal that Sedna is transforming from?

The narwhal is such a beautiful and mystical animal, magical, and like the unicorn people hold this animal in such esteem that I believe it was important to choose the narwhal to better affect people and get the message our there and across.

Detail of "Sedna Speaks", photo courtesy of Alec Lawson Tuckatuck

In your description of the sculpture, you say that the green tusk speaks for Sedna. Can you tell me a bit more about that?

The green serpentine tusk represents our earth, our environment, and how we need to go “green” in order to save our planet/ourselves. The colour green carries such a powerful meaning for our world today and with the meanings we’ve held our narwhal and the magic in it’s being and tusks, it was important for Sedna to be able convey her messages effectively.

Detail of "Sedna Speaks", photo courtesy of Alec Lawson Tuckatuck

Sedna has a really interesting expression in this piece: it looks like she could be speaking, singing, angry or even crying (though, since the piece is called Sedna Speaks, I assume she is speaking). Can you talk a bit about what you want her to be expressing?

Sedna speaks with her expression and I’ve created her so that she affects people the way they themselves view the world and the effects of global warming and climate change. So, this way people will relate to Sedna’s expressions from within themselves and in turn this will bring out the inner expression they carry around themselves in their subconscious feelings about what we are doing to our own world and what we need to do to save it. In some way we are all aware of global weather changes, but many of us are still dormant in making efforts to bring the subconscious to the forefront and see/deal with what is right in front of us.

Your style is really beautiful and unique. I know you have been carving since a very young age and were taught by your family members. Did you consciously try to shape your style into what is has become? Have you had any formal training?

I have not had formal training, I have learned everything I know from learning from my elders and my own efforts. I create from within and although I have learned the foundations of carving from my people, it is all me expressing in my own creative mind the meanings and stories I believe to be important for us to remember and learn from. I do not try to create a certain way, I create with stories and messages I am meant to tell by letting them tell me how they want to be created. From that point everything is natural in expression, raw, and real. It is simply what comes out of me by what messages I am supposed to tell.

What do you hope people take away from your artwork in general and this sculpture in particular?

Please listen to us and learn about us so that we are heard. We are a small community in this world that I believe deserves a much bigger voice. We have many things to offer to the world and I believe we, as an Inuit culture, have a responsibility to ourselves and to our worldly ‘family’ to bring back some things to natural and raw form, so that we may connect again as a  human species and combine our powers to bring better changes to the world.

I hope everyone will have a chance to see this powerful work in person as well as the other powerful sculptures displayed with it.

-Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Educational Coordinator


One Response to “Sedna Speaks”


  1. Top Five Questions « Peek Inside the Museum of Inuit Art - August 24, 2011

    […] Much of what we consistently hear about the Arctic in the news from public figures or in other media is about climate change, Arctic sovereignty and natural resources. These are all important issues, but it is often hard to parse them out effectively: for example, what does climate change really mean to Arctic communities? It’s easy to talk about warming temperatures, but it’s not as easy to understand what that means for local people or sometimes how it is expressed in artwork. […]

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