Iqaluit artist Kaleigh Rose Tagak wins top prize

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Nunavut Arctic College student Kaleigh Rose Tagak was named Nunavut’s winner of the 2019 BMO 1st Art! Competition for the sculpture Night Guide.

Nunavut Arctic College student Kaleigh Rose Tagak was named Nunavut’s winner of the 2019 BMO 1st Art! Competition for the sculpture Night Guide, made of sterling silver, caribou antler, and serpentine.
photo courtesy BMO 1st Art! Competition

Tagak, a second-year student in the jewelry and metalwork program, was introduced to art as a child.

“My earliest memory with art is that I shaded super-awesome looking Northern Lights and all my classmates were like, ‘Oh my gosh, that looks so real!'”,  she said by email.

The win, which comes with a $7,500 cash prize, surprised the 19-year-old artist.

“I knew that it was pretty good, but I honestly wouldn’t have thought that other people outside my family, friends, instructors and colleagues would think the same,” Tagak said.

“I’m also excited and grateful that I won because it means other people like it, as well, and knowing that makes me feel more confident with my work and inspires me to create more.”

Tagak explains the piece tells a made-up story of the Night Guide: the caribou’s role is to guide the spirits of the plants, animals and humans of this land to the Northern Lights where they shall stay and dance until they are ready to move on.

“The part about human spirits dancing with the Northern Lights is from a legend from my culture, the Inuit culture; the rest is made up,” she said.

As she worked on the piece, merging her imagination with the material she was working with, the legend and someone she knew came to mind.

“In emotional value, it means a lot to me. It’s a huge piece that I finished within a reasonable amount of time. It’s the first time I’ve worked with antler, and the first time I made a spoon. It’s inspired by a beautiful legend from my culture that I’ve known since childhood, and it holds the memory of someone I knew,” said Tagak.

The young artist says she dreams of being a full-time artist.

“Though I’m not sure what I really want to do in the future, but for sure whatever it is will be art-related.”

The annual competition, in its 17th year, aims to support budding Canadian artists during their transition out of school and into the next phase in their careers. All 13 winners – one national and 12 regional – were selected from a pool of 291 submissions, according to the news release.

Winning pieces will be displayed at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Toronto from November 26 to December 16, with winners travelling to Toronto from across Canada for the exhibition opening.