Ahqahizu: Inuit Sculptors Bring Northern Lights to YorkU

Posted by Garima on May 31, 2016

Archive | Goings-On around York

I will be one of the first to admit that besides my Grade 9 project on the Aurora Borealis (commonly referred to as the Northern Lights) and its origins based on Indigenous folklore, I was never as well-informed about Aboriginal culture as I would have liked to be. Given that there were so many things I didn’t know, and so much I could have learned about Indigenous peoples, I was ecstatic to learn that a little part of Inuit culture had found its home right here on the Keele campus.

Sculpted from more than 60,000 pounds of granite with diamond-encrusted blades, Ahqahizu (pronounced AA-CHAEY-YOH) will be remembered by York University students and faculty for many decades to come. It will be officially unveiled later in the month of June.

Before I talk more about the sculpture itself, let me give you all a little background on Ahqahizu — which means “soccer player” in the language of Inuktitut — and its story. In Inuit culture, it is believed that when the sun goes down, the spirits of those who have left us reveal themselves through dance. After the dance, they begin to play soccer with a walrus skull. This process then creates the luminous tints of light that we can see in the sky, also known as the Northern Lights.

A picture of the Aurora Borealis (also known as The Northern Lights)
A picture of the Aurora Borealis.

This intricate framework shapes the background for Ahqahizu. The sculpture that first started production near Stong House depicts a soccer player with a soccer ball in the form of a walrus skull on his leg. In contrast to the body’s granite finish, the walrus skull is made completely out of bronze and coloured beautifully through a chemical process called patina.

Sculptor Ruben Komangapik with the original model of the walrus skull
Sculptor Ruben Komangapik with the maquette (original model) of the walrus skull, completed with sterling silver tusks
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The final walrus skull made completely out of bronze; it weighs more than 50 pounds.

My colleague Sam and I had the pleasure not only to witness a small part of the construction of Ahqahizu (pictured below) but we also took the opportunity to speak to Ruben Komangapik, one of the sculptors, himself. Komangapik, who has been sculpting for more than 39 years, grew up watching his grandfather carve. Being largely inspired by him, Komangapik decided to pursue a diploma in jewelry making. His partner in this project for York, which was originally planned for the Pan Am/Parapan Am Games last year, is Koomuatuk (Kuzy) Curley. Curley works for Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage (MICH), a multi-medium platform that aims to improve access to, connection with and the creation of Inuit cultural capacity. He and Komangapik met at the Great Northern Arts Festival,

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The sculpture, Ahqahizu, in progress behind the York Lions Stadium.
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The sculpture, Ahqahizu, in progress behind the York Lions Stadium.

The massive sculpture, which has now been moved to its permanent home behind the York Lions Stadium, is a beauty, imprinting itself in our minds’ eyes for long after we stopped looking at it. It struck a chord in our hearts. According to Komangapik, the sculpture will have metallic eyes to reflect both the sun or moonlight, as well as to allow people passing by Ahqahizu to find a reflection of themselves in the future, before they too play soccer in heaven. Following the footsteps of numerous Inuit sculptors before him, Komangapik did not want to place Ahqahizu on a pedestal. He wanted students and other members of the York community to be able to interact with Ahqahizu at eye level, rather than pass by the piece only able to look at it from a distance, removed from everyday life.

Inuit sculptor Ruben Komangapik sitting on his sculpture Ahqahizu at York University.
The creator sitting on what he lovingly refers to as “the Rock”.

Speaking to Komangapik and watching him refine Ahqahizu proved a great learning experience, one that I would highly recommend! Although the sculpture won’t be officially unveiled until later this year, you can always get a little sneak-peek of this masterpiece behind the stadium. With a little luck you’ll also find the artists at work, and if so, you’re in for some wonderful stories. If you visit Ahqahizu in person, make sure to tweet us pictures as well as your thoughts at @YorkUStudents with the #YUBLOG.


Update:

After their tremendous expedition of meticulous daily sculpting and detailing, Ruben Komangapik and Koomuatuk (Kuzy) Curley unveiled their masterpiece a few weeks ago to great avail. Check out the official video below:

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Garima
Garima

Garima is a second-year Bachelor of Business Administration (BBA) Student at YorkU . She no longer blogs regularly for the YU Blog but may post on occasion as a guest-blogger.

See other posts by Garima

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