Born in 1941, Irene had a very traditional Inuit childhood, living with her grandparents and sewing caribou hide into clothing. She moved away from Princess Mary Lake to Baker Lake in 1958 where she gave birth to her first child. Her artistic career flourished in Baker Lake, providing her with opportunities and allowing her to make a living from her tapestries.
Irene’s talent at creating tapestries is outstanding and has earned her several accolades over the years. In 1999, she had a solo exhibition at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at the University of Guelph and was awarded an honorary doctorate degree from that institute. A few years later, in 2002, Irene was initiated into the Royal Canadian Academy of the Arts (RCA).
Irene’s artistic skill lies not only in her craft, but in her ability to tell a story through her sewing. In her book on Irene, Judith Nasby explores this particular talent.
“Myth and reality intersect as [Avaalaaqiaq] translates multi-layered stories, transformation scenes, and personal memories into bold graphic imagery… Her unique vision is expressed in large, highly coloured, and abstracted works that are enlivened with embroidered lines. Avaalaaqiaq’s world view is derived from an oral tradition and is expressed in a symbolic manner that compresses time, location, narrative and the depiction of movement into timeless images conveying layers of meaning.” (Judity Nasby, Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality, 2002)