Agnes Nanogak’s family history reflects the rich and varied heritage of Canada’s Western Arctic Inuvialuit people. Her Inupiat father (one of the explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson’s guides) came from Nome, Alaska, and her mother from the Mackenzie Delta area. Nanogak’s family moved first to Sachs Harbour on Banks Island and then to the future site of Holman (now Ulukhaktok) on Victoria Island in 1934. Nanogak’s husband, Wallace Goose, hailed from Tuktoyaktuk and Coppermine.
This remarkable image, which illustrates a traditional shaman, was probably influenced stylistically by the work of one of Nanogak’s colleagues, the elder artist and shaman Helen Kalvak (1901-1984). However, the particular practice it illustrates is likely of Alaskan origin. In order to display their supernatural powers, shamans would periodically undergo tests of strength and death-defying endurance. Here, the shaman survives strangulation, which, instead of killing him, conjures up his powerful bear-helping spirit.
Nanogak’s crisp line drawing is translated into a “negative” stonecut image in the classic 1960s Ulukhaktok printmaking style. Using only graphite in the 1960s, Nanogak evolved into one of her community’s boldest colourists after felt pens and coloured pencils were introduced in 1970. She created thousands of drawings and authored about two hundred prints and is now remembered as one of Ulukhaktok’s most gifted and prolific graphic artists, illustrators and storytellers.