The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit – 2019

Jesse Tungilik

The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit

Jesse Tungilik
Hosted by: AbTeC/Milieux/Concordia University

Jesse Tungilik’s residency was jointly supported by IIF, the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership Partnership, the Milieux Institute and Concordia University’s Faculty of Fine Arts as a Concordia In-Residency Appointment.

Jesse Tungilik is an interdisciplinary artist based in Iqaluit, Nunavut. He has worked in many artistic disciplines, starting as a ceramicist at the Matchbox Gallery in Rankin Inlet (beginning at just eight years old, and continuing into adulthood) before working in Mathew Nuqingaq’s Aayuraa Studio in Iqaluit as a jewelry artist specializing in baleen, muskox horn, ivory and silver. Tungilik also works in mixed-media sculpture. Tungilik is currently the Chairperson for the Board of Trustees for Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum (in Iqaluit), and is a member of the Inuit governance group of the Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership SSHRC Partnership Grant (2018-2025). 

Residency Activities
  • March 25, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., Visit to the Canadian Space Agency with CEGEP Nunavik-sivunitsavut students.
  • April 2, 4th Space, 10 a.m. – 1 p.m. Building a Seal Skin Spacesuit: Pattern-making workshop. CEGEP Nunavik-sivunitsavut students at work with Jesse. 
  • April 2, EV 6.735, 3-5 p.m. Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents: Jesse Tungilik – “Using Conceptual Sculpture to Bring Social Change.”
  • April 9, EV 2.776, Noon – 1 p.m.: Lunch-and-learn session for faculty on working with the north. 
  • April 11–12, EV 11.425, 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Making a Seal Skin Spacesuit: Sewing workshop. Jesse assembling the Space Suit with CEGEP Nunavik-sivunitsavut students.
  • April 26, Art Hive EV 5.777, 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. Workshop on working with northern organic materials and jewelry construction. 
  • April 30, EV 11.705, 2 – 4 p.m. Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents: Jesse Tungilik (Iqaluit) Exhibition – The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit
    Exhibition. Show of finished work/reception. 

Visit Concordia Fine Art’s webpage about the residency for additional information.

Indigenous Futures Cluster Presents: Jesse Tungilik (Iqualuit) Exhibition – The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit

Narratives and technologies of scientific progress find material expression in the iconic spacesuit. Why do we only have spacesuits designed and made by the Soviets, Russians, United States and China? Why was the rest of the world left behind in the space race conversation? If a spacesuit was designed and made by Inuit people, what materials and technology would be used? What ideologies would be mobilized by decolonizing the spacesuit and its materiality?

Jesse Tungilik’s residency culminated in a presentation of his residency project, The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit, on April 30, 2019 at Milieux Institute. In this project, Tungilik critically intervenes in the design and materiality of the iconic spacesuit by intertwining narratives of scientific progress with Inuit nomadic way of life. Through the use of sealskin, Tungilik challenges preconceived notions of Inuit art and prevailing misconceptions of Inuit way of life in contemporary Canada. The Making of a Seal Skin Spacesuit engages in critical conversations about contemporary social issues faced by Inuit People in Canada.

Photo by Amanda Shore
Workshop: Working with Northern Organic Materials and Jewelry Construction

On April 26th, 2019 at Concordia University’s Art Hive, Jesse Tungilik hosted a workshop on working with northern organic materials and jewelry construction to Faculty of Fine Arts students and faculty.

Documentation of Jesse Tungilik’s workshop held at Art Hive
Documentation of Jesse Tungilik’s workshop held at Art Hive
Collaborative Installation with Jesse Tungilik at Nuit Blanche

Jesse also participated in creating a collaborative installation for Montréal’s Nuit Blanche–an all-night, public festival of the city’s art and culture! This year’s festival took place on the evening of March 2 under the theme of the future. As part of the festival, a group of seven Indigenous artists, six of whom are Inuit, created a multimedia installation entitled Memory Keepers/Gardiens des mémoires. The other participating artists included Inuvialuk multimedia artist Tom McLeod; Inuvialuk painter Darcie Bernhardt; Halifax-based, Mittimatalik (Pond Inlet)-raised painter Megan Kyak-Monteith; Newfoundland-born Inuk animator Glenn Gear; and Nunatsiavummiuk graphic artist Jason Sikoak; and Montreal-based Algonquin filmmaker and artist Caroline Monnet.

As part of the installation, Jesse created the work, Feeding My Family, a sculpture depicting the food insecurity faced by Inuit people and the high cost living in the North, as well as issues of forced relocation, colonization, and the assimilation of Inuit people.

The project was organized by Dr. Heather Igloliorte of Concordia University, Dr. Carla Taunton of NSCAD and Dr. Julie Nagam of the University of Winnipeg with MA student Lesley Beardy under their newly formed GLAM Collective, short for Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums.For more information about the project, check out Inuit Art Foundation’s interview with Jesse and CBC’s interview with him.

Photo by Ossie Michelin, 2019
Photo by Ossie Michelin, 2019

Henderson, Emily. “Collaborative Installation Debuts at Nuit Blanche.” Inuit Are Foundation, March 12, 2019.

Khademian, Yasna and Nadia El-Sherif. “Interview with an Artist: Jesse Tungilik.” McGill Daily, April 9, 2019.

Murdoch, Andy.”Concordia artist-in-residence builds a sealskin spacesuit.” Concordia News, April 24, 2019.

McKay, Jackie. “Inuk artist creates sculpture out of Northmart and Northern Store receipts.” CBC News, March 9, 2019.

“Introducing Jesse Tungilik, IIF + Inuit Futures Artist-in-Residence.” Initiative for Indigenous Futures, March 19, 2019. “Spotlight On: Artist Jesse Tungilik.” Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity, YouTube, January 4, 2019.