Barnabus lives in the community of Baker Lake (Qamanittuaq). Throughout his life he has created sculpture, prints and drawings, but he sees himself foremost as a stone carver.1,2 He was married to graphic artist and carver Fanny Arngnakik (1929-2001).3 Taking after their parents, sons David (b.1964) and Norman (b.1969) are carvers as well.4
Nine Inuit nomadic tribes lived in Baker Lake prior to the arrival of traders and missionaries in 1927.5 The Hudson Bay Company came in 1926 (dates vary on this point) after originally occupying a different section of Baker Lake called "Uqpiktujuq", or Big Hips Island, in 1916 (or 1915).6,7 In 1957 a government school was built - through the 1950s and 1960s Inuit children were brought to the community to further their education.8 Additional Inuit families came to Baker Lake at that time to be with their children and to take advantage of the health centre built in 1956.9,10
The community's creation was also due a series of famines caused by the "collapse" of caribou herds, which affected the nine nomadic tribes of the area.11Many Inuit came to settle in Baker Lake for the stability the community provided.
Born in 1924 in the Kazan River area Barnabus is one of Baker Lake's oldest inhabitants where he and his work have been "an influence in his community and on the art of Keewatin for four decades."12 Carving programmes began in the community in the early 1960s with Barnabus, according to one observer, as a "major force and contributor to what clearly became the overall style of the tundra artists."13
Although the formal community of Baker Lake came together for a variety of reasons, Barnabus, like other Inuit sculptors of the area, has a readily identifiable style that is the result of a cohesive community with a mature identity. He creates his work from the "hard black steatite" of the area.14 This stone does not allow for "perforation or fine detail."15 Despite this the sculpture created from it, however, tends to be very "tactile," "timeless," with a feeling of "monumentality" while at the same time emphasizing shape, colour, pattern and texture.16,17 The artist has carved soapstone since 1961 using "simple" and non-electric tools.18His approach to his materials is very "old school" in that he shuns the use of a mask or safety goggles "but highly recommends it to all other carvers."19
A practical and thoughtful man Barnabus has stated that he worries about getting old and about working outside in cold weather.20 His approach to his work is as equally pragmatic21:
"I don't know where I get my ideas, ..., because it's all in your mind. It's you that carves. I look inside myself. Sometimes, before going to bed, I examine the stone, carefully. And in the morning I know what it will be."
Barnabus has said that to not sell a finished carving would be like "stealing" from the person who was the potential owner and preventing children benefitting from the sculpture.22
As a an artist with 40 years of experience Barnabus has the following advice for the new carvers that follow him23:
"To the new generation of Inuit carvers...I recommend this: carve the way your want, and not the way the white man tells you - remember you are an Inuk."
-His work has been shown in over 100 group and solo shows, in the United States, Germany, Switzerland, France and Canada
-His work is in permanent collections in, for example: the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Canadian Museum of Civilization and the McMichael Canadiana Art Collection.