Jessie Oonark – The Day of the Sun

 

When the Days are Long and the Sun Shines into the Night

The summer solstice has been celebrated and deeply cherished by Indigenous peoples across the globe since time immemorial. Occurring when the sun reaches its highest position in the sky, this important celestial event is the day with the longest period of sunlight. In the days surrounding the summer solstice, when the sun travels along its northernmost path, there is continuous daylight within the Arctic Circle, where Inuit artist Jessie Oonark lived her entire life.

Born in 1906 in the Back River area, Nunavut, formerly Northwest Territories, Jessie (Una) Oonark spent the first fifty years of her life on the land in Utkusiksalingmiut hunting camps throughout the region with her family, before being relocated to  Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), by the Canadian government in the late 1950s.

This vibrant panoramic piece bursts with colour, energy and life. Oonark illustrates a time of celebration, when a flurry of activity fills the brightly lit days without night. Groups of people are fishing, preparing food, hunting caribou by dogsled, and children play, bringing a liveliness to this active scene. The drawing depicts Inuit life during the intense Arctic warm season, particularly near the time of the solstice, when there are 24 hours of daylight above the Arctic Circle. The thirteen yellow suns that surround the large central igloo, where a ceremony is being performed, symbolize the ongoing passage of time and the sunlight that floods the land during this special time of year in the North when, as Oonark once explained, the air warms up, game becomes more plentiful, life is renewed, and not a moment is to be wasted.

Jessie Oonark The Day of the Sun
Jasmine Inglis and Alexandra Nahwegahbow: 2021.06.21

Jessie Oonark’s drawing When the Days are Long and the Sun Shines into the Night is currently on view in the Indigenous and Canadian Galleries at the National Gallery of Canada.

Indigenous and Canadian Galleries at the National Gallery of Canada.