Mapping Worlds – A blur of boundaries between reality and fantasy

Mapping Worlds showcases Inuit artist Shuvinai Ashoona’s pieces that reflect fantastical imagery linked to her roots in Kinngait (Cape Dorset). The exhibition will run from Feb. 22–May 24, at the Vancouver Art Gallery (VAG).

The show was inspired by working with Ashoona for over 15 years and is based on my research done for my Ph.D. dissertation entitled Cracking the Glass Ceiling: Contemporary Inuit Drawing,” says Nancy Campbell, Mapping Worlds’ curator. “The exhibition will include work done by Ashoona in the past ten years or so.”

A meeting of imagination and nature

Handstand, 2010, Stonecut & Stencil, Printer: Qiatsuq Niviaqsi, 86.3 x 62 cm | Photo courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts

Ashoona’s current art practice differs significantly from her early work, says Campbell, not only in scale but also with the introduction of colour and larger paper sizes. Her iconography expanded to include more fantastical imagery, including hybrid animals, spirits, and monsters. She does, however, always retain a link to her home in Kinngait and uses references to northern plant life, animals, and people.

“Her imagination is evident in her work, as the work does not record or illustrate a scene; it combines many elements and streams of consciousness,” adds Campbell.

Campbell believes that Ashoona is a creative and expressive artist and is fascinated by several of her pieces.

Her Interior and Settlement, two small dry-point etchings, were her first pieces to be included in the Cape Dorset annual print collection in 1997. Today, her work attracts both private galleries and public institutions. She’s been featured at the Basel Art Fair, the National Gallery of Canada, and the Justina Barnicke Gallery at Hart House. Ashoona was also included in the prestigious Phaudin publication, Vitamin D2. New Perspectives in Drawing, as she’s slowly gaining more international recognition.

“It’s hard to say what her best pieces are,” she adds, though, one of her favourites currently shown at the VAG is Titanic.

“Her attention to detail in this work is phenomenal and somewhat hilarious,” she points out. “She has a band playing on the top deck as people seem to be swan diving into the frigid waters. I have a fondness for this work as well as I know the James Cameron film is one of her favourites.”

Redefining Inuit art

Shuvinai Ashoona. | Photo by William Ritchie

As with all curatorial work, the best part of putting together an exhibition is developing a deep relationship with the artist. Ashoona is an incredible talent and an amazing person,” she declares. “In addition, the team at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery in Toronto has been so so supportive.” Campbell also loves the “immense satisfaction” she has that “the exhibition is touring. People who are not familiar with Ashoona’s work can see it and also redetermine their assumptions about what Inuit art should look like.”

Ashoona is an artist from Kinngait, Nunavut. She began drawing in 1996, working with pen and ink, coloured pencils, and oil sticks. She is a member of the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative that has fostered artists in that community since 1959. Her parents, Kiawak Ashoona and Sorosilutu, are both well known for their contributions to the arts in Kinngait. She joined the cooperative as a vocation, and a means to support herself. There, she found guidance and encouragement in addition to the support she was searching for.

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