Cambridge Bay’s Zoe Ohokannoak promotes the arts for youth

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Zoe Ohokannoak has left an indelible mark on her hometown of Cambridge Bay.

She and friend Sam Sibera spent about a month working on a mural adorning the side of the community pool in July and August. It depicts a polar bear lying on the ice next to open water.

They had a crew of youth helpers who assisted in applying the base coat.

“It was pretty fun. I’m glad they enjoyed it,” Ohokannoak says.

Zoe Ohokannoak smiles as she paints a mural on the side of the pool in Cambridge Bay. Local youth assisted with the project over the summer.
Sam Sibera photo

It wasn’t her first mural. She painted a suicide-awareness theme at Kiilinik High School, where she graduated in 2017.

“I was really glad to work on that one,” she says.

In early September, Ohokannoak returned to the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design in Halifax, where she’s enrolled in the second year of a four-year expanded media program. She’s able to engage in painting, digital arts, metalworking, sculpting, drawing and film and photography.

“I like a broad range,” she says, adding that digital arts is her favourite medium, although her most beloved creation is an acrylic painting that she calls Mort Romantique. It features a glass skull resting among flowers, candles and a patterned silk scarf.

Ohokannoak has also designed tattoos for others. She has an interest in being a tattoo artist someday. That would include traditional Inuit tattoos as she’s been inspired by the Inuit Tattoo Revitalization Project.

She also wants to lead community arts programs that involve youth, similar to the mural project this past summer.

“That felt really good, so I’m hoping I can do that more in the future.”

Cambridge Bay artist Zoe Ohokannoak’s favourite piece by her own hand is this acrylic painting she titled Mort Romantique.
photo courtesy of Zoe Ohokannoak

Ohokannoak been fascinated by the arts for as long as she can remember.

“My mom still has my potato drawings from kindergarten,” she says, laughing. “I’ve always had an interest in it. When I started focusing (on arts) as a career was probably when I was still pretty young. I’m still coming up with ideas of what exactly I want to do.”

A high school arts teacher encouraged her to move in that direction as well.

“He was a huge advocate in making sure I get any supplies that would help me,” she recalls. “He would give me advice, which I’m very thankful for.”

After graduating high school, Ohokannoak devoted a year to working and raising money to help cover her port-secondary expenses.

Choosing to attend the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design put her in Halifax, where she has relatives. It made the transition easier, being thousands of kilometres from Cambridge Bay.

While in elementary school she lived in Edmonton, where her mother attended university, so she’s accustomed to larger cities.

“It wasn’t that big of a transition for me,” she says of the move to the East Coast. “A lot of things are more convenient (in a large city) but still gotta miss home.”