A new, bold and bright mural – painted by four Inuit artists from Cape Dorset, Nunavut – is adorning the wall of the Bell Media building on George Street in the ByWard Market. Visual artists and co-founders of Embassy of Imagination Alexa Hatanaka and Patrick Thompson are facilitating the project in partnership with the Ottawa School of Art.
A few years ago, Hatanaka and Thompson were commissioned to do a series of murals in Canada’s north. Inspired by its history of art, Hatanaka had long wanted to visit Cape Dorset. The two soon realized that while many local youth were interested in their work and wanted to get involved, there was a lack of strong programming to support participation in the arts. This soon propelled Hatanaka and Thompson to create the Embassy of Imagination to go from artists to art mentors. They forged strong relationships with members of the artistic community in Cape Dorset and have now been working with youth for four years.
The youth have really inspired the direction of projects. Every year, the Embassy of Imagination conducts three months of workshops in Cape Dorset, which includes everything from print making to video production. Throughout the process, they identify individuals that would be a good fit for the project and invite them to participate. That smaller group gets together to develop the broad image for the mural. So far, Embassy of Imagination has created two successful paintings in Montreal and Toronto.
The Ottawa mural is called Tunnganarniq, which translated into English as fostering good spirits, by being open, welcoming and inclusive. Created by artists Harry Josephee, Christine Adamie, Janice Qimirpik and Kevin Qimirpik, the image’s primary visual element is a life-sized bowhead whale. The mural was inspired by an Inuit tale of a whale found with a 100-year old harpoon deep inside its body.
The work of the Embassy of Imagination has led many Inuit youth to greater empowerment, through art or other means. One such example is Parr Josephee, who has worked on several mural projects with Hatanaka and Thompson and served as youth mentor for this particular project. Josephee has recently merged two of his loves – visual arts and skateboarding – to create Parrfect Skateboards.
A diverse range of people have stopped by the mural to give kudos to the artists and engage with them, including many Inuit living in Ottawa, who share a sense of pride in the youth’s creation.
The mural will be officially unveiled at a ceremony this Sunday, July 16 at 11am.