The community of Cape Dorset boasts more famous artists per capita than any other region in Canada. Ottokie is the son of the talented local artists, Johnny and Kuluajuke Tunnillee and the brother of Nicotye Samayualie, who is intensely interested in depicting everyday items such as mittens, the contents of a pantry shelf, boxes of camping supplies or fishing tackle in her drawings.
It is not surprising that Ottokie has followed the same artistic path as his elders, as is the practice in Nunavut, artistic talent is passed on through the family and close friends rather than taught in an art academy. In this way it is similar to a guild system.
As a young artist Ottokie’s exhibition history is necessarily short, nevertheless he has exhibited his work since 2006 in Ontario, Quebec, Alberta and Switzerland.
The Cape Dorset sculptural style is a combination of observational naturalism and reduction to stylistic and sometimes abstract forms. This is present in Ottokie’s carvings. He takes great care in choosing the stone. His carvings are made of indigenous serpentine with varying shades of light yellow-green to black. He finishes his work to a smooth and polished surface to best exhibit the luster of the stone.
Serpentine is a rock with composition similar to that of Jade, it is quarried on Baffin Island as well as many locations around the world. It is a very hard stone that requires more artistic virtuosity to carve than the softer soapstone; it offers the opportunity to achieve flowing forms, lines bold and delicate, as well as glistening, elegant finishes. Sites for finding the stone are many miles east of Dorset.