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Karoo Ashevak

Karoo Ashevak was an artist based in Talurjuaq (Taloyoak), NU. He took up carving through the arts programs provided by Indigenous and Northern Affairs Canada [1] and his career quickly took off with his sculptures shown in galleries throughout Canada and the United States. Ashevak’s carvings are predominantly in whalebone, although he occasionally worked with caribou antler, soapstone and ivory. He played with volumes and shapes in his carving, contrasting detailed design with minimally altered material [2]. In his work, Ashevak often created other-worldly figures that conveyed his distinct sense of humour.

Recurrent themes in Ashevak’s works were spiritual and otherworldly beings; many of his carvings were titled “Spirit” or “Figure.” In (Fantasy) Figure with Birds (1972) a distorted spirit figure with wide eyes and tiny rounded teeth exposed is a resting spot for a bird as well as a second spirit perched on the figure’s shoulder [3]. The figure has a third smaller spirit in it's one hand which it is pushing out away from it's body as if it is protecting itself.

Ashevak exhibited his work across Canada and the United States with posthumous exhibition of his work continuing to date. His carvings and artwork can be found in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON, the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, ON, the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, QC, the Winnipeg Art Gallery and the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian, Washington D.C., United States among others.


[1] Cynthia Cook, “Transcending the Specifics of Inuit Heritage: Karoo in Ottawa,” Inuit Art Quarterly 10, no. 2 (Summer 1995): 32. 
[2] Ibid: 34.
[3] Cook,“Transcending”, 36.