Artist Tarralik Duffy named 2021 winner of Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award

Kapuivik is my home (2020), Sharpie and ink. A work by Tarralik Duffy. (Courtesy Tarralik Duffy)

Multimedia Inuk artist Tarralik Duffy has been named the 2021 winner of the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award.

Duffy, whose work is often known for its humour and pop culture references, will receive a $10,000 cash prize.

“I was emotional, and I’m still emotional about it,” Duffy said in a phone interview. “It’s so touching and moving to know that people believe in me and my ideas. It’s such an honour.”

Duffy is from Salliq (Coral Harbour) in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut and currently lives in Saskatoon, a city in the southern part of the country.  Her works span graphic art to jewelry to clothing. 

Heather Campbell, the Strategic Initiatives Director at the Inuit Art Foundation, the body that established the award, says among the many strengths of Duffy’s work, is how it speaks to a younger generation of Inuit. 

“Tarralik’s work is so special because it’s a great example of the art being made by her generation right now,” Campbell said in a phone interview.

“In generations before, the first real contemporary Inuit artists from 1950s onwards, they’re remembering back to their childhoods or young adulthood out on the land. But our generation, we’ve been living in the town most of the time and Tarralik actually depicts everyday objects that you would encounter in any Inuit home in the North, like Carnation milk containers or canned meat like Klik.

“That’s all very relatable for our generation and I think that’s also part of the reason why her work is so special. She’s not only making art for a southern audience. I think more so, she’s making art for other Inuit as well.”

Klik (2019), archival pigment print by by Tarralik Duffy. “I love plays on words and drawing what’s around me,” Duffy says about incorporating pop culture elements into her work. “You can’t be in Nunavut without seeing things like pop cans, they’re everywhere. There’s a particular way that things are stacked on the shelves in Nunavut and that’s in such sharp contrast to the land around us. So those things are very much in mind and when the ideas come in my head, I have to follow.” (Courtesy Tarralik Duffy)
‘The greatest honour’

Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013) is a renowned Inuk artist who lived most of her life in Cape Dorset in Canada’s eastern Arctic territory of Nunavut. Her iconic images depicting Arctic animals and wildlife garnered her a worldwide reputation.

The biennial Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award was established in 2014 as a way to recognize mid-career Inuk artists. (This year’s award was supposed to be given out in 2020 but was postponed because of the pandemic.)

Duffy says the recognition in Ashevak’s name made the award especially meaningful to her.

“Her art is so alive, her presence is palpable in her work,” Duffy said. “She’s a powerful woman, a powerhouse. I’ve always admired her work and remember just wanting to touch what she’d touched. So this award is just the greatest honour.”

The award is completely funded by donors and judged by an all-Inuit jury. This year’s jurors were  Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, a performance artist and the inaugural Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial award winner, Jocelyn Piirainen, a curator, and Ossie Michelin, a filmmaker and writer. 

New to the award this year, the winner will also get a solo exhibition at the Winnipeg Art Gallery (WAG)-Qaumajuq in Manitoba, as well as a residency. The museum will also acquire one of the winner’s works into the WAG’s permanent collection.

“Just to create something from the Inuk experience and share that is so exciting,” Duffy said. “I can’t wait to give it everything I’ve got.”

Qinalugaq/Beluga Bone Dangles (2019) by Tarralik Duffy. (Courtesy Tarralik Duffy)

Campbell said the WAG partnership is an important occasion for contemporary Inuit art to reach even wider audiences.

“We’re very excited about this work that we’re doing with the WAG,” Campbell said. “It gives even more exposure to the artist that wins the award and more exposure to Inuit art in general.”

The award was handed out in a zoom ceremony Wednesday night.

There were also three shortlisted artists: Eldred Allen, Kablusiak, and Couzyn van Heuvelen. Each received a $3,000 award. 

Write to Eilís at eilis.quinn@cbc.ca 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada: “Art was like a therapy for me” — Canadian artist Manasie Akpaliapik reflects on work, life & his solo exhibition in Quebec City, 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 a 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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