Artistas / Canada / Inuit

Mary K. Okheena (b.1957)

Bear Tracks, 1992 woodcut on paper Co-op Proof 78.6×99 cm (Winnipeg Art Gallery)

Mouth of the river

Born at King’s Bay

Some reading and watching


Okheena learned English at Charles Camsell Hospital, Edmonton, where she was treated for tuberculosis for two and a half years as a young child. She was always interested in drawings, having watched her father, [sculptor and printmaker] Jimmy Memorana, one of the founding members of the Holman Co-op, and her aunt, Agnes Nanogak Goose make their work. After Mary made some initial drawings and a large embroidery design for the church, Father Tardy invited her to help with stencil printing for the print shop. Mary’s involvement with the print shop was intermittent from 1977 to 1982, the period during the birth and infancy of her two oldest children. In 1982, she resumed her artwork with a more sustained focus, and in 1986 she printed three of her own drawings. Okheena is often inspired by the facial expressions of children and the challenge of interpreting these and other human subjects in her work. She does not reproduce the traditional stories that she heard as a child, noting that she never heard the end of the bedtime stories because she fell asleep before the stories ended. Okheena has developed her own form of narrative storytelling. ((WAG)) The daughter of Jimmy Memorana, Okheena is part of the third generation of organized graphic artists in the Canadian Arctic. As such her art combines a uniquely Inuit aesthetic and cultural tradition with Southern cultural influences and Western artistic devices. Okheena began her professional artistic career by translating other artists’ images into prints, which appear in the 1979 and 1980-81 annual Holman print collections. Okheena excels at the stencil technique, achieving subtle and luminous gradations of color. It was in 1986 when Okheena began to apply the print medium to her own images…. Okheena has consistently explored the aesthetic possibilities of animal and human forms, abstracting and exploiting their formal qualities. (Annalisa R. Staples in “North American Women Artists of the Twentieth Century: A Biographical Dictionary”, 1995 Spirit Wrestler)

(photo Maria Stella Patera)

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