“It’s completely surreal”: the prints of an Inuk photographer exhibited at the National Gallery

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Katherine Takpannie says she hopes gallery visitors reflect on the themes of her photography, including murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls

When Katherine Takpannie, an Inuit photographer from Ottawa, received her first compact camera at age 15, one of her first goals was to take a photo every day of the year.

At 32, Takpannie’s works now hang on the walls of the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa.

In 2020, Takpannie was one of three winners of the Scotiabank New Generation Photography Award, presented annually to artists 35 years of age or younger. A place in a temporary exhibition at the National Gallery is part of the prizes.

Katherine Takpannie was one of three recipients of the 2020 Scotiabank Next Generation Photography Award. Five of her prints are currently on display at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa. (Photo by Fred Cattroll)

Earlier this month, the exhibition opened its doors to visitors. It features works by the 2020 and 2021 award winners, after COVID-19 restrictions forced the gallery to limit its operations for nearly a year.

When Takpannie first saw her footprints in the exhibit, she said it was an amazing experience.

“I went to see him and I couldn’t believe it… I was just like ‘that doesn’t happen’,” she said. “It’s completely surreal.”

Photographers must be nominated for the award. Takpannie says she doesn’t know who nominated her work, but is grateful to have been selected.

“I have no idea who named me and completely changed my life forever,” she said.

Andrea Kunard, the gallery’s senior photography curator, was one of the judges who helped Takpannie get his work through the competition and into the gallery.

She said she admired Takpannie’s “extreme” use of color and his ability to tell stories with pictures.

“It’s very focused on the urban environment for the Inuit,” Kunard said. “She has a way of expressing her feelings in her photograph.”

Takpannie says she hopes her work can tell the story of her Inuit experience in an urban setting. She is the daughter of a residential school survivor and grew up without understanding her culture and family history.

“I create art that reflects my life, my experiences and everything I need to express very well,” she said.

One of the first prints visitors might see at the entrance to the gallery is titled “Our Women and Girls Are Sacred,” which aims to highlight the crisis of murdered and missing Indigenous women and girls. It shows a woman standing in the snow, looking away from the camera and holding a red smoke bomb.

This problem, says Takpannie, comes close because of his friendship with Inuit artist Annie Pootoogook. In 2016, Pootoogook was found dead in the Ottawa River. No one has been charged with her death, although Ottawa police said at the time she was “a suspect.”

Pootoogook’s death was incredibly devastating, Takpannie says, and the photograph provided an opportunity to mourn and heal from this loss.

“It was a further extension of a way to grieve, to process and internalize, to share, to raise awareness and to talk about these issues,” she said. “All of my works are deeply intertwined and locked into my life and experiences. “

Takpannie says she also hopes visitors take the time to understand the stories other photographers express in their work.

“This art addresses a plethora of different issues,” she said. “I think the whole exhibit is something that needs to be explored, felt and discussed across Canada.

The exhibition is on display at the National Gallery until December 5.


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