Saimaiyu Akesuk is the granddaughter of the famous Cape Dorset sculptor Latcholassie Akesuk (1919-2000). The first drawing she sold to the Cape Dorset print studio – with the encouragement of her friend Ningiukulu Teevee, one of the leading lights in Cape Dorset graphic art – was inspired by one of her grandfather’s whimsical birds, and his spirit seems to continue to live through her art. Saimaiyu’s vivid animal drawings also recall the work of the Cape Dorset elder graphic artists Sheojuk Etidlooie (1929-1999) and Papiara Tukiki (born 1942), but Saimaiyu has definitely found her own personal style.
In her joyful drawings, Saimaiyu seems to have resisted adopting not only a realistic style, but even a sense of deliberate design. Her works have a childlike sense of whimsy and fun, and lack even a hint of the irony or angst that is present in the work of many of her peers. An elementary school teacher in Cape Dorset, Saimaiyu has seemingly taken inspiration from her students (and her elders) rather than from her artist colleagues, many of them stars of the contemporary Canadian art scene.
Composition (Purple Bear) positively bursts with energy; the animal seems ready to break free from the borders of the black paper at any moment. The radiating lines of exuberant colour are like an explosion of fireworks – and interestingly but perhaps coincidentally are reminiscent of Kenojuak Ashevak’s iconic 1960 print The Enchanted Owl. In fact, there is a definite “early 1960s” sensibility about the work; despite the obvious modernity of its colour palette and pattern, the shape of the bear is refreshingly unaffected, even naive.