Tupilak: Greenland’s Mythical Monsters

These small, thumb-sized, sculptures are known as Tupilak (or Tupilaq) which in Greenlandic means the ‘soul of the ancestor’.  In the Inuit culture, they were traditionally used by a shaman who believed they could bewitch this little monster of their creation to seek revenge on their enemies.  The figure are carved out of tooth or bone with the strange forms drawing inspiration from arctic mythology.

©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl

The stylised faces and exaggerated features are reminiscent of the ancient African masks which inspired Picasso to create abstracted representations of the human form.

©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl

In Greenlandic, Tupilak means “soul of the ancestor”

©Mads Pihl

What we love about these sculptures is that they somehow manage to be simultaneously cute and horrifying.  Although they have leering eyes and a serious set of teeth their tiny scale makes them personable.

I mean, these little guys below definitely mean monster-business. Look at those adorable frowns.

©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl

The common curved shape of the figure is indicative of the materials used as these would usually be canines or tusks of a large animal.

©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl
©Mads Pihl

These mythical pieces of art are an important part of Greenlandic Inuit culture.