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.”
‘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.”
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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