Canadian Heritage to contribute funding to travelling Kenojuak Ashevak exhibition

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Kenojuak Ashevak’s felt tip pen and coloured pencil drawing Six-Part Harmony. The image was used for the stonecut print Six-Part harmony which was released in the 2011 annual Cape Dorset fall print collection. (Courtesy West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative)
The federal Department of Canadian Heritage is contributing $464,000 to help fund a travelling exhibition featuring the work of Kenojuak Ashevak, one of Canada’s most renowned artists. 

The money will go to the Kinngait Arts Foundation, the non-profit organiztion working on a national tour of the exhibition titled Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy. The foundation, which promotes Inuit art from Cape Dorset, is putting the travelling exhibition together along with the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative and the Kenojuak Cultural Centre.

“As President of the Kinngait Arts Foundation and someone who knew Kenojuak very well, I am honoured to announce this important partnership with Canadian Heritage,” said Jimmy Manning in a news release on Wednesday.

“A prominent artist member of the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative and an ambassador for Cape Dorset’s cultural community, this exhibition celebrates the life and legacy of one of Canada’s most beloved national treasures.”

Putting Arctic art on the map

Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013) lived most of her life in Cape Dorset, an island community of approximately 1400 people, off the southwest coast of Baffin Island in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut. 

Her career spanned decades and her iconic images depicting Arctic animals and wildlife came to define a generation of Inuit artists living and working in the North. Her work almost single-handedly came to define Arctic art both in Canada and on the world stage.

A 1961 photo of artists in front of the Cape Dorset print shop run by the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Arctic Canada. From left to right standing: Print studio manager Terry Ryan and artists Pudlo Pudlat, Pitseolak Ashoona, Napachie Pootoogook, Kiakshuk, Parr, Joanasie Salomomie. Seated from left to right: artists Eegyvadluk Ragee, Kenojuak Ashevak, Lucy Qinnuayuak. (Courtesy West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative)

Kenojuak Ashevak was part of the first generation of artists to come through the Cape Dorset print program. The program’s roots go back to the 1950s when Canadian artist James Houston moved to Cape Dorset and taught local Inuit how to draw and make prints of Arctic nature and Inuit life.

Starting in 1959, the prints produced in Cape Dorset were released in an annual collection. They became a hit in the art world and a favourite of collectors. 

Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy features 31 drawings and three prints from the archives of the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative,  the local co-op established in the community in 1959. The works had not previously been formally exhibited.

The works are accompanied by objects and anecdotes related to Ashevak’s work and contributions, items that were contributed by Cape Dorset community members.

Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy was the first exhibition mounted at the Kenojuak Culture Centre after it opened in 2018 in Ashevak’s home community of Cape Dorset.

“Canada’s many diverse stories deserve to be celebrated and shared across Canada and the world,” said Pablo Rodriguez, the minister of Canadian Heritage and Multiculturalism, in a news release.

“Our government’s contribution of more than $464,000 to the Kinngait Arts Foundation will ensure that an even greater number of visitors to museums and cultural centres will be able to discover the works of one of the Arctic’s most important artists.”

Eye on the Arctic Feature Interview

Kenojuak Ashevak speaks with Eye on the Arctic’s Eilís Quinn in 2010 in Cape Dorset, Nunavut.

Six venues are currently scheduled to host the exhibition.

The tour will run from early 2020 to 2022.

Dates and venues are expected to be announced in July.

Write to Eilis Quinn at Eilis.Quinn(at)cbc.ca

Related stories from around the North:

Canada: Inuit art meets architecture – Saguenay exhibition winds up on Sunday, Eye on the Arctic

United States: Inuit carvings head to Northern Canada after decades in California, CBC News

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Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is a journalist and manages Radio Canada International’s Eye on the Arctic news cooperation project.

Eilís has reported from the Arctic regions of all eight circumpolar countries and has produced numerous documentary and multimedia series about climate change and the issues facing Indigenous peoples in the North.

Her investigative report "Death in the Arctic: A community grieves, a father fights for change," about the violent death of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on violence and trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her multimedia project on the health challenges in the Canadian Arctic, "Bridging the Divide," was a finalist at the 2012 Webby Awards.

Eilís has worked for media organizations in Canada and the United States and as a TV host for the Discovery/BBC Worldwide series "Best in China."

Twitter: @Arctic_EQ

Email: eilis.quinn(at)cbc.ca

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