Mark Emerak (1901-1983)

Mark Emerak

Mark Emerak was born in 1901 near Cambridge Bay on the southeastern tip of Victoria Island. As a young man he married a widow from the same region, but the union ended after only one year when Emerak lost his wife to a stronger man in a contest of strength. His second marriage, to a young woman named Udyok, was to prove more durable; together the couple would have ten children in total. Emerak once again found himself alone when Udyok died from an unknown illness sometime in 1950s. By that time the family had already moved to the expanding settlement of Holman. Although a permanent resident, Emerak continued to leave the settlement for extended periods to fish and hunt, and it was not until 1966 that he began to make pencil drawings with the encouragement of Father Henri Tardy. He quickly emerged as one of the community's preeminent artists, producing a total of over 900 drawings in a career that lasted nearly two decades. Forty-one of his images were translated into limited edition prints and included in Holman's annual collections from 1966 to 1982. A further six images were published as posthumous prints for the 1987 Kalvak/Emerak memorial portfolio. Known as a kind and gracious man, who, according to his daughter, "never lost his temper", and "was always happy, always smiling". Emerak died in 1983.

Emerak's drawings and prints depict the traditional occupations and pastimes of the Copper Inuit (named after their tools fashioned from copper obtained from local deposits), of which he was a member. Communal games, eating and sharing rituals, drumming and fishing are some of the commonest subjects. Several images portray swimming caribou being hunted by Inuit kayakers, while a few represent shamanistic healing practices. Many works make use of multiple perspectives that avoid favouring a single orientation towards the paper’s format. Emerak was also inspired by the appearance of traditional clothing, as the many works representing the distinctive straightedge designs of the Copper Inuit attest.

Emerak preferring always to express himself in penciled lines rather than through colour. Whereas his printed images tend to obscure the linear quality of the original drawings, the latter are often filled with distinctive circular enclosures. Wider enclosures and semi-enclosures are frequent too, and are used to denote a variety of phenomena including lakes, igloo interiors and whirlpools rendered as spirals seen from above.