Jessie Kenalogak is a representative of one of the most important periods in the recent history of Kivalliq Inuit. She can still recall the transition from the traditional nomadic lifestyle into settlement life. She was born in Back River in the early 1950’s. When she was a child, her family, like many other Kivalliq families, went through a time of starvation. Many elder Inuit still retain memories of this difficult time, when all of their human resources- their stamina, patience and faith were severely tested. Many people perished. Those who survived were changed forever by what they had to face. Jessie brings those memories into her work as an artist.
Jessie’s introduction to settlement life came when she was sent to school in Baker Lake. From there, she went to Churchill Vocational Center in Churchill, Manitoba. After that, she returned to Baker Lake to get married and raise a family.
“When I am drawing, I am mostly thinking about the time when my family was out on the land trying to survive. I remember a time when we only had one fish left for the whole family. That’s why I always put fish into my drawings. I still recall using a fish hook made from bone to catch that fish.”
Jessie’s most meaningful artistic influence came from her grandfather Angushadluk, one of the most important and respected artists ever to work in Baker Lake. She would watch him working in the mornings when she awoke to go to school. “My grandfather used to get up at five in the morning to start his drawings before I went to school. I liked his drawings.” Her grandfather would give her pencils and paper to draw. Another person who influenced and encouraged her was her aunt, Mary Singaqti, another highly respected Baker Lake artist. “I think about all of the different artists I remember, but mostly about my grandfather. He favored me as granddaughter. After he died, I had a hard time getting papers. When I went to the Matchbox, as soon as I started touching pencils again, I started drawing again.” Jessie is always close to nature in her work. “I love animals, the sound of the rivers.” The titles of her drawings, her very personal interpretations of her art, serve as another expressive element of the overall work.