Travelling Kenojuak Ashevak exhibition coming to Sudbury, Canada Jan 21 to March 28

Kenojuak Ashevak’s felt tip pen and coloured pencil drawing Six-Part Harmony is among the works shown in the current travelling exhibition titled Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy. (Courtesy West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative)
A travelling exhibition featuring work by iconic Canadian Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak is coming to Sudbury, Ontario in January, marking an important cultural event for the southern Canadian city, say organizers.

“I can’t even begin to tell you how excited we are about this exhibition,” said Demetra Christakos, the director and curator of the Art Gallery of Sudbury, where the show Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy will take place.

“We have a long tradition of featuring Inuit art – and [are just now] working with Inuit curators – and because of that there’s a huge affection for this work in our region.”

Exhibition features previously unshown work

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

“Just the basic symbolism of her work calls forth in such a powerful way the flora and fauna of our region in a way you can’t help but respond to,” says Demetra Christakos, the director and curator of the Art Gallery of Sudbury. (Courtesy Demetra Christakos)

The 31 drawings and three prints that make up the show are 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 images are accompanied by objects and anecdotes related to Ashevak’s work and contributions, items that were contributed by Cape Dorset community members.

Christakos says exposing visitors to the little-seen works will help deepen appreciation for Ashevak’s iconic graphic imagery.

“This is a rare opportunity for us to have original drawings,” Christakos said in a phone interview. “We’ll be painting the walls white and doing a very contemporary installation that will have a real visual impact.”

Trailblazing artist

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.

Eye on the Arctic Feature Interview

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

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. 

Understanding landscape

Christakos says Ashevak’s work is a window into the Arctic environment, but that her work also resonates so powerfully elsewhere in Canada, including places like Sudbury, because of its depictions of nature and wide open landscapes.

“Kenojuak Ashevak’s focus on the nature of the Arctic has such a great resonance with our experience,” Christakos said. “Just the basic symbolism of her work calls forth in such a powerful way the flora and fauna of our region in a way you can’t help but respond to.”

Promoting Inuit art has been a ongoing feature of The Art Gallery of Sudbury/ Galerie d’art de Sudbury in Ontario, Canada. (Brandon Gray/Courtesy Art Gallery of Sudbury)

Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy will run at the Art Gallery of Sudbury from Jan 21 to March 28. 

Bookings can be made on the Art Gallery of Sudbury website starting in January.

The exhibition will travel Canada until 2022.

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

CLARIFICATION
A previous version of this story indicated the following quotation “We have a long tradition of featuring Inuit art and working with Inuit curators and because of that there’s a huge affection for this work in our region” which has been changed by this quotation “We have a long tradition of featuring Inuit art – and [are just now] working with Inuit curators – and because of that there’s a huge affection for this work in our region”. This version has been corrected.
Related stories from around the North:

Canada: New ebook explores life and legacy of Canadian artist Annie Pootoogook, Eye on the Arctic

Finland: Sámi-themed Finnish short film makes Sundance lineup, Yle News

Greenland: `Enough of this postcolonial sh#%’ – An interview with Greenlandic author Niviaq Korneliussen, Eye on the Arctic

Iceland: Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson lights up London’s Tate Modern, Blog by Mia bennett

Norway: Walt Disney Animation Studios to release Saami-language version of “Frozen 2”, Eye on the Arctic

Russia: Russia’s Arctic culture heritage sites get protection, The Independent Barents Observer

Sweden: Sweden, Norway team up to preserve ancient rock carvings, Radio Sweden

United States: Set of Indigenous Yup’ik masks reunited in Alaska after more than a century, CBC News

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn, Eye on the Arctic

Eilís Quinn is an award-winning 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 murder of Robert Adams, a 19-year-old Inuk man from Arctic Quebec, received the silver medal for “Best Investigative Article or Series” at the 2019 Canadian Online Publishing Awards. The project also received an honourable mention for excellence in reporting on trauma at the 2019 Dart Awards in New York City.

Her report “The Arctic Railway: Building a future or destroying an culture?” on the impact a multi-billion euro infrastructure project would have on Indigenous communities in Arctic Europe was a finalist at the 2019 Canadian Association of Journalists award in the online investigative category.

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

Her work on climate change in the Arctic has also been featured on the TV science program Découverte, as well as Le Téléjournal, the French-Language CBC’s flagship news cast.

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."

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