Billy Merkosak (1966)
Pond Inlet (Mittimatalik)
Billy Merkosak is a renowned artist from Mittimitalik (Pond Inlet), a small Inuit community located north of Baffin Island in Nunavut, between Kangiqlugaapik (Clyde River) and Ikpiarjuk (Arctic Bay).
He started drawing at the age of four. Since then, he has explored different media and artistic practices, sculpting whale bones, ivory or driftwood, and using watercolors. Billy Merkosak is one of the few artists in Nunavut to sculpt masks, along with Tim Pitseolak, Taqqialuk Nuna and Sam Toonoo from Kinngait (Cape Dorset).
Sculpting or drawing masks helps maintain a close connection between the past and the present, through myths and ancient stories of Inuit elders. Indeed, masks were once important during shamanic practices to allow the shaman to communicate with the spirits or the deceased.
Miniature masks were also used as amulets to protect shamans, children and adults from evil spirits. In the early 1960s, archaeologists discovered miniature ivory masks from the Dorset Culture near Iglulik (south of Mittimatalik). Billy Merkosak celebrates his ancestors and ties to the past with this whalebone mask. His works of art seem to be a way of passing on ancestral knowledge to Inuit youth.