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Saimaiyu Akesuk is an artist from Cape Dorset, Nunavut. She’s had two solo exhibitions since starting to draw seven years ago, in her mid-twenties. (Dorset Fine Arts)

Saimaiyu Akesuk says she’s "hated" art for most of her life.

At the age of 25, the closest thing to "art" she willingly did was doodle during class at Nunavut Arctic College’s teachers education program.

Little did she know, the charcoal scratches on her notepad would later bloom into unimaginable opportunities — travelling overseas to showcase her creations and even restoring her flailing self-confidence.

"Growing up, for as long as I could remember … I hated, hated art," said the now 32-year-old Akesuk, a Grade 3 teacher in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

"I even kind of failed art when I was taking my teaching program," she said. "That’s how much I hated it."

It was when a classmate, who was an artist, noticed Akesuk’s doodles that her life took a turn.

"She kept bugging me. [She said,] ‘You should start drawing. You’re so good at it,’" recalled Akesuk, who said she repeatedly denied it.

After being bothered by the persistent classmate, Akesuk said she mustered up the courage to go purchase her first piece of art paper from the local grocery store. ‘I was like so nervous’

Akesuk remembers sitting down in front of her first-ever canvas.

"I was like so nervous," she said.

"So many things were going through my mind. What am I going to do? What am I going to draw? Can I actually do this? I don’t think I can do this."

But she started sketching, then drawing, then painting. Akesuk’s print Reflection is one of the Cape Dorset prints that was added to the Brooklyn Museum’s collection. (Dorset Fine Arts) Her first piece was a human face with wings; the next one was a landscape. The third, though, stumped her.

"I literally sat there in front of my paper for a couple of hours," said Akesuk. "And then, my late grandfather’s carvings came into my mind."

Akesuk said her grandfather Latchaulassie Akesuk’s abstract carvings became her inspiration from that moment on.

"When I was growing up, I was like ugh, he does ugly carvings," said Akesuk, describing his stone birds.But when she brought the painting back to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op, the local art buyer recognized her grandfather’s carving in her art. Akesuk’s pieces are sold to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op which works in partnership with Dorset Fine Arts in Toronto to market the art around the world. (Dorset Fine Arts)"[He] was like, ‘Latchaulassie’s bird!’" she said, adding that’s when she began to focus her art on animals."Every time I try and draw something, I try and leave some part of it as my grandfather’s carving, like the legs for example." From Nunavut to the U.S. Akesuk had her first-ever solo exhibit at Froelick Gallery in Portland, Ore., in February last year.Her second solo exhibit wraps up at the same gallery this weekend."Both shows sold out. Can you imagine? And this is someone who’s never been to this part of the world. This is an audience that largely doesn’t even understand what Inuit art is," said William Huffman, marketing manager with the Toronto-based Dorset Fine Arts."That’s a pretty remarkable feat." Akesuk at her first solo exhibit in Portland, Ore., in the U.S. She said her grandfather’s old carvings are an inspiration to her art. (Rebekah Johnson Photography) Huffman has worked personally with Akesuk for the past three years. Dorset Fine Arts works with the Cape Dorset co-op in distributing and marketing local artists’ work all over the world.Her work is a mixture of approachable, idiosyncratic, lyrical and contemporary, said […]

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