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Qaqaq Ashoona

Qaqaq (Kaka) Ashoona was an artist from Ikirasak, an outpost camp on South Baffin Island, NU who became based out of Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. Ashoona maintained a traditional lifestyle on the land while simultaneously producing a substantial artistic legacy and though a prolific carver, Ashoona self-identified as a hunter [1]. Following a stagnation in the fur trade industry Ashoona began carving around 1953 [2]. The demands of a wage-based economy and increasing prices of commodified goods necessitated a shift in focus towards alternative means of income. Preferring to remain away from town Ashoona would travel seasonally to Kinngait to sell his carvings and would occasionally live in the community [3].

Soapstone was the primary material used in Ashoona’s sculpture in addition to bone, ivory, sinew and sealskin elements. Ashoona’s method is notable in that he only ever used hand-carving tools to produce his pieces, expressing a fear of injuring himself with electric tools [4]. The hallmark of his sculpture is the combination of heavy, compact and free flowing forms. He often focuses on spiritual and mythological themes featuring human and animal subjects. Sedna is regularly depicted in his work in turbulent and sober expressions. Ashoona stated that although human faces are harder to carve he was drawn to sculpting them more often than animals [5]. He frequently sculpts head and torso studies of human figures utilizing negative space, limbs and hair to draw the viewer’s attention to the face [6].
Ashoona is known for his depictions of mother and child—a subject often portrayed in the work of his mother, Pitseolak Ashoona. In Untitled (Mother and Child) (1957) Ashoona visualizes “maternal protectiveness bordering on the dangerous” with a mother holding her child defensively to her chest [7]. This protective sense of urgency is conveyed through intricate carvings of the mother and child’s facial features, particularly their bared teeth. 

Ashoona’s sculptures have been featured multiple times in the Inuit Art Quarterly. His work has exhibited nationally and internationally. In April of 1973 his first solo exhibition, Sculpture by Kaka of Cape Dorset was held at Gallery of the Arctic in Victoria, BC. In 1990 Ashoona travelled to Vancouver for his solo exhibition Kaka Ashoona Sculpture at the Inuit Art Gallery of Vancouver and was featured on CTV National News. His work is housed in numerous major collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, ON Winnipeg Art Gallery, Musée des beaux-arts de Montréal and the Canadian Museum of History, Gatineau, QC.


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Accomplishments

1973: Received a short term grant from the Canada Council to accumulate pieces for a one man show.

 


Citations/Footnotes

1. Simeonie Kunnuk, “An Interview With Qaqaq Ashoona”, Inuit Art Quarterly 11 no. 2 (1996): 21 
2.Ibid.
3.Ibid, 21 
4.Ibid, 27 
5. Christine Lalonde, “The Art of Qaqaq Ashoona”, Inuit Art Quarterly 11 no. 2 (1996): 31.
6.Ibid.
7. Alison Gilmor, “The Ashoona Family of Cape Dorset,” Inuit Art Quarterly 10 no. 2 (1995): 39