- Nation: Inuit
by Lynn Feasey
Mathew Nuqingaq is not just the founder of the aptly named Aayuraa Studio. Aayuraa, means ‘snow-goggles’ in Inuktitut. The purpose of snow goggles is to protect one’s vision, which is exactly Mathew’s intent for this unique, inspiring, collaborative studio space.
Mathew Nuqingaq is an artist. He is also a leader, teacher and a mentor, something valuable in the remote arctic community of Iqaluit, where he lives with his wife and children. Aayuraa is the only artist studio of its kind.
In 2007, Mathew, a former school teacher, opened the studio with the vision to help artists become independent, create their own pieces and to able to make a pretty good living from their art, rather than just getting by. He had enough experience to know what other artists needed, and enough courage to make it happen. The studio is also where Mathew the artist - a jeweler, performer, photographer and sculptor - works and plays. His imagination is endless.
“The imagination comes from some of the amazing stories we grew up with – we have been wanting to get those out and put them out into the world.
I don’t always tell stories with my work but the stories are in me, and I want to share that. Making something whether it’s for survival or from the imagination, still takes practice. Most of the people I know, work hard because they needed to.”
Mathew’s work has both a national and international following. His craftsmanship is exquisite, his originality is dazzling and most often, amusing. There is evidence of play in each and every piece of work he creates.
“I am still learning – I feel I am in the early stages of my development. It’s a feeling I want to feel for the rest of my life, like I am always learning. I want to be able to do this as long as my eyes and hands allow me to do it. It is something that is very hard to explain, but it’s like pretending – we have been pretending since we were in kindergarten, pretending to do something, and its something that I look forward to going and playing. When we do snow sculpture we put our snowsuits on and go play – we play with snow. When we do jewellery we get our small tools and we play. We make something that is not real, and we make something out of nothing. And we also can make a living, which is satisfying.”
In the early 1990’s, Nunavut Arctic College began a jewellery and metalwork program and it took the Inuit art world by surprise. Reactions to the work in metal were instant and collectors were excited by the bold expressions in this new material. The artists were excited too.
“I had just moved to Iqaluit and not long after there was a college program and they had a sale. I was so impressed by the beautiful pieces the artists made. I was used to seeing everything the same, things from Sears, and then all of a sudden seeing a whale or a story created in this material, I just fell in love with it.
So I decided to learn. It seemed really natural for me to use metal. And it caught me off guard. You can say so much with very little. That’s one of the things I like. A small piece can be used to strike up a conversation, and be used as a learning piece. Our ancestors used to make small pieces, because they had little material and couldn’t travel with heavy pieces. I like working in metal - you can take it with – you don’t have to have so much space.
As an artist, the only thing I am really looking for right now is to enjoy the moment creating a piece, and to be able to do this, to spend time thinking – thinking, thinking, thinking.
Being an artist is a full time job – but I look forward to coming into the studio to work, and being able to work. You are not creating a masterpiece every day, because it takes a long time to figure something new out. You have a blank piece of paper, your new scrapbook, your pencil – you say, ok, I’m going to design something today. But it doesn’t come. So you try again tomorrow, but it doesn’t come, and doesn’t come… and it can take a long, long time to figure anything out. But the bills don’t stop, so you have your other small pieces you work on so you can pay the bills. And you ever don’t stop. I love every minute of it.”