Shuvinai Ashoona receives a 2024 Governor General’s Award in visual and media arts

“Sometimes the art doesn’t come out perfect but each one has its own story,” says artist Shuvinai Ashoona. (Courtesy Canada Council for the Arts)

Shuvinai Ashoona, one of the most convention-breaking artists to come out of the famed Kinngait print program, is a recipient of a 2024 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. 

“Never content to follow rules and expectations, Ashoona’s unconventional artistic vision has successfully challenged and revolutionized how the public perceives Inuit art and contemporary Indigenous art more generally, helping to create a new space for expression and artistic freedom,”  Robert Kardosh, director and owner of the Marion Scott Gallery, who nominated her for the award, said when the award was announced on Wednesday. 

Unique style led to solo shows

Ashoona was born in 1961 in Kinngait in Nunavut where she still lives and works.

Shuvinai Ashoona, untitled (surreal octopus), 2021, coloured pencil and ink on paper, 183.52 x 127 cm. (Courtesy Canada Council for the Arts)

There she developed a unique style, often favouring coloured pencils and featuring large-scale drawings incorporating aspects of Inuit culture along with fantastical, dream-like elements.

“I see art in the forms that surround me,” Ahoona said in a profile video put out by the Canadian Council of the Arts. “My forefathers who were artists made us who we are, gave us the eyes to see beauty around us. We see their fingerprints on the artwork.

“Sometimes the art doesn’t come out perfect but each one has its own story.”

Kardosh said Ashoona’s vision has evolved over time to become instantly recognizable, contributing significantly to contemporary art in Canada.

“For more than two decades, Inuk artist Shuvinai Ashoona has been changing the face of Inuit art and, more generally, that of contemporary Canadian art,” he said.

“Ashoona’s innovative drawings, many of which are ambitiously scaled, freely mix elements drawn from historic Inuit culture with contemporary references to more recent history and popular culture.”

Shuvinai Ashoona, A for Sure World, 2009, coloured pencil, graphite and ink on paper, 50.16 x 64.77 cm. (Courtesy Canada Council for the Arts)

Ashoona’s unique style has led to group shows at Art Gallery of Ontario and the National Gallery of Canada; and solo shows across the country at The Power Plant, in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the MacKenzie Art Gallery, in Regina and the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, in Iqaluit and most recently at The Perimeter in London, England. 

Her work has also been shown internationally including in countries such as Poland and South Korea.

Shuvinai Ashoona received the Art Gallery of Ontario’s 2018 Gershon Iskowitz Prize and received a special mention in 2022 from the jury of the 59th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. 

Changing perceptions 

Inuit Art Quarterly, a periodical focused on visual arts, said the Governor General’s award was an important recognition of her boundary-breaking style.

“Ashoona’s award acknowledges her artistic practice, which spans more than two decades, and the way in which her work and career challenge perceptions of what Inuit art is and can be,” the magazine said in a statement. 

Shuvinai Ashoona, Untitled (world with insects and monsters), 2015, coloured pencil, graphite and ink on paper, 63.5 x 64.6 cm. (Courtesy Canada Council for the Arts)

The Governor General’s Artistic Achievement Awards honor artists for their contributions to contemporary visual or media arts through their body of work.

Winners are chosen by peer assessment committees and receive a bronze medallion and a prize of $25,000.

Comments, tips or story ideas? Contact Eilís at eilis.quinn(at) 

Related stories from around the North: 

Canada : Ningiukulu Teevee UK exhibit: Latest Kinngait artist in global spotlight, Eye on the Arctic

Finland : Finnish Lapland plans incentives to attract filmmakers to region, Eye on the Arctic

Greenland: New exhibition features 2000 years of Inuit art from Canada, Alaska, Greenland & Siberia, Eye on the Arctic

Norway: Certification marks help both Sami artisans and consumers, says council, Eye on the Arctic

Sweden: Arctic city of Kiruna competing for the European Capital of Culture title, Radio Sweden

United States: How Inuit culture helped unlock power of classical score for Inupiaq violinist, Eye on the Arctic

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