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Shuvinai Ashoona

Venue: KW Institute for Contemporary Art, Gropius Bau

Shuvinai Ashoona

Born 1961 in Kinngait, CA – lives and works in Kinngait

Born into a family of revered Inuit women artists, Shuvinai Ashoona soon distinguished herself with an idiosyncratic style that combined traditional, naturalistic subject matter with fantastical elements and altered perceptions of reality. While her early monochromatic drawings sparsely recorded everyday Arctic scenes and landscapes from her family’s nomadic life in Canada’s far North, her imaginative and often eccentric artistic visions reached fruition in later work that introduced both color and an expanded thematic repertoire including popular culture and religious imagery. Like that of her cousin Annie Pootoogook (1969–2016), whose own successful artistic career was tragically cut short by her untimely death, Ashoona’s trajectory reflects a generational shift that reveals both the influence of the South as well as the contemporary Canadian art world’s belated acknowledgement of the vital artistic scene of her hometown, Kinngait (Cape Dorset).

In the presented selection of recent drawings, Ashoona juxtaposes and layers motifs found throughout her work—birthing mothers, human-animal hybrids, monsters, Inuktitut syllabics—in whimsical, sometimes unsettling vignettes that blur the lines between past and present, fiction and reality, traditional and globalized cultures. The works on display speculate upon the political potential of maternity—and matriarchy as a possible counterpoint to patriarchy. Ashoona also makes reference to the labor of drawing itself: Monsters Holding a Drawing (2015) shows a group of figures in hoodies enraptured not by the giant blue monster dangling a purple octopus by its tail, but by the drawing held between them—of a woman holding a tree branch with a hanging bat in one hand and yet another drawing in the other.

The pieces at the Gropius Bau testify to the inextricable ties between colonialism and modernity. Composition (Clock) (2014) suggests an Indigenous temporality that departs from a Western linear chronology, while in Salt Bones (2016) a cluster of whalebones, washed up on the shore and used in traditional Inuit carving practices, alludes both to the sea as a source of sustenance and artistic inspiration, as well as the circularity of life cycles.

Michèle Faguet

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