Published in the Fall 2007 issue • Arts Profile
Spoken word artist Taqralik Partridge raps on why Inuit women fill her with awe
“So, what, you guys just found me on MySpace or something? Wow, I’m famous. Hold on a sec, the macaroni is about to explode.” Spoken word artist Taqralik Partridge is cooking dinner for her twins and has forgotten about our phone interview. If you were raising 11-year-old twins, working full time and creating the art that got you listed as one of the Montreal Mirror’s Noisemakers of 2007, you might forget the odd interview, too. She tells her kids to distract themselves, averts a pasta disaster and settles down to chat about her life and work.
What defines Partridge’s writing is her ability to tell stories deeply rooted in the rich dirt of everyday life. Her subjects aren’t mythical heroes or goddesses: the world they live in is both ordinary and highly charged. Her piece “Eskimo Chick” is both a heartfelt tribute to a friend and a sly poke at the clichés of girl culture. “Other girls have Louis Vuitton baggage and Calvin Klein pasts,” she chuckles in her performance, “but you and me, we got sealskin hopes and dreams.” Later in the piece, when she tells Eskimo Chick, “Your grandma must have been a hottie / and she got down and naughty / with some fine Inuk body,” her audience laughs and hoots in appreciation. In “My Mary,” she describes a woman who has endured violence and abuse at the hands of men and whose sexuality smoulders like a dormant volcano. There are no easy answers in her pieces; no cardboard cut-outs. Instead, Partridge uses her lyrical skills to evoke the complex lives of Inuit women and her own relationship with identity.
The child of an Inuk father and a white mother, Partridge was raised in Kuujjuaq, a village in northern Quebec. “Because I grew up in the north, I identify more with being Inuk. But I never had an Inuk woman in the house,” she says. “I feel like everything about Inuit women fascinates me because there’s that little bit of otherness, and they’re also me at the same time.”
A Montrealer for more than a decade (she currently works as director of communications at the Avataq Cultural Institute), Partridge can also attest to the tensions of life as an urban Inuk. “I’ve lived in the south for 12 years but I’ve always felt like an outsider,” she says. “It’s very strange to me how we can live and have two realities. I come from this place that’s vast and open and beautiful, but I live and work in this place that is constricted and full of so many things going on. I love Montreal and I love the city, and [yet] in many ways I feel like an outsider.”
Her work reflects this ambiguity in its refusal to choose one reality over another. She skims from choppy rhymes to barely breathed stories that are almost lullabies, then suddenly she’ll switch to traditional Inuit throat singing. She isn’t merging two worlds so much as keeping them in constant conversation.