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Siblings pass on love for art

Simik and Mikka Komaksiutiksak connect on Arctic Rose Foundation work
For Mikka and Simik Komaksiutiksak, working with the Arctic Rose Foundation is a chance to provide safe spaces for art expression for youth. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo

You can feel the love and expressiveness when Simik and Mikka Komaksiutiksak are in the room.

Both hail from Rankin Inlet, though they moved south in childhood. Mikka found a career in working with Inuit children and youth while engaging in artistic pursuits on the side, while Simik’s name has been rising in performing art circles with his dance and modelling.

They joined forces this year to teach as guest artists in their hometown for the Arctic Rose Foundation as part of the Messy Book Program, which offers after-school culturally relevant programs to youth in grades 5 to 12.

“In our adult life, we were trying to figure out ways to connect with our community,” said Mikka. “Coming back to Inuit Nunangat and the Arctic Rose Foundation was one way to make that possible.”

For their week-long visit, Simik taught youth how to express themselves through movement, while Mikka mentored high school students and engaged the group in therapeutic art sessions.

“Because we’re both artists, it was a great opportunity to reconnect with our community through the arts and serving children and youth,” said Mikka.

She’s worked with Arctic Rose before, but this was Simik’s first time, and his first visit back to Rankin Inlet in nearly a decade.

“It’s been going really good,” he said, adding the youth were shy at first but quickly warmed up. “We do a lot of expressive arts. I tell them to close their eyes and explain different stories and then I tell them to clear their mind and we do movement-based exercises to express our feelings.”

One of his highlights was seeing the students fully engage in the expressive movement exercises.

“This is going to sound weird, but we were just moving our hands and I was telling them to pretend their fingers are flowing through the wind and they have to paint the wind,” said Simik. “I told them to close their eyes, and at one point everyone was just waving their arms and really into it, and they had big smiles on their faces.”

Mikka led participants in a guided meditation visualizing happiness, getting youth to pick out their happy colours and then creating a group painting based on themes of growth.

One of the most important parts about the program is creating a consistent safe space for youth to express themselves, said Mikka.

“When children and youth are coming into the space, we don’t know what they’re facing at school or at home, in their peer circle, but when they come here, it’s a safe space for everybody to express themselves artistically,” she said.

It’s also a space where youth can see the many different ways art can manifest, from painting to Simik’s movement-based style.

“It’ll never be enough,” said Mikka about the need for more safe spaces for youth. “There needs to be more, because children and youth, especially Indigenous children and youth, deserve every opportunity in the world. Anything this world has to offer, it’s for them, and it should be right in front of them. It shouldn’t be out of reach.”

And part of teaching different ways art can manifest is showing it’s OK to be different as people, said Simik, including that the space is safe for those who are queer, and all are invited to be open about their identity.

“That’s a really big part of my whole dance practice as well,” he said.

For Mikka, her highlight of the trip in Rankin Inlet was seeing youth laugh.

“It doesn’t matter what kind of art form you do and what level of your art you’re at, art can be very scary to walk into,” she said. “Something I love about the Arctic Rose room is we always say this is a safe space to do art, this is a safe space to express yourself, this room is for you.”

The pair look forward to their next time back.

“We can look at each other across the room and be like, ‘I know exactly what you need me to do,’” said Mikka about working with her younger brother. “I think that’s the strength in working with one of your siblings.”

Simik and Mikka Komaksiutiksak are a brother-and-sister duo who recently wrapped up teaching art and dance to youth in Rankin Inlet through the Arctic Rose Foundation. Stewart Burnett/NNSL photo