My first experience of Qavavau Manumie’s work was with two drawings included in the exhibition Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years (2010). Curated by Candice Hopkins, Steve Loft, Lee-Ann Martin and Jenny Western, the multi-venue exhibition in Winnipeg saw Indigenous artists imagining “the future within the context of present experiences and past histories." Manumie's depiction of human interactions with both the natural and the spiritual worlds melds oral stories with imaginative, often surreal forms that give a sense of the complex interactions of life in the North. Well-placed among works by James Luna, Postcommodity and Skawennati, Manumie’s drawings read as apocalyptic, visionary and even monumental, despite their modest size.
At times overwhelming, at times playful, delicate and meticulous, Manumie’s recent solo exhibition, Cold Dreams (Marion Scott Gallery, 2016), builds on this depth and complexity. Created between 2007 and 2012, the work ranges from detailed depictions of camp life to abstract compositions where the frenetic patterns and bands of colour convey aspects of the artist’s Northern experience. In a work from 2009, Untitled (Abstract composition with landscape image), a landscape of water and ice is contained within a small rectangle, suspended in the middle of the page by lines that arc off in all directions. Small, snow-like circles move over the landscape and into the surrounding space, which is filled with yet more lines and geometric shapes. The representational and the abstract merge; snow is both substance and shape, which is perhaps a visual analogy to the shape-shifting beings described in Inuit mythology.
Qavavau Manumie, Untitled (Stick figures and fish with fantastical form), 2007, coloured pencil, felt pen and ink on paper, 50.8 x 66 cm
COURTESY MARION SCOTT GALLERY
Manumie often disrupts the viewing experience by calling attention to the conventions and restrictions of the two-dimensional plane. In Untitled (Raven crushing igloo) (2011) a small figure helplessly brandishes a knife at a monstrous bird that holds an igloo in its beak. The white space surrounding the scene opens at the foreground to reveal blocks of ice floating in water, suddenly moving from negative to positive space and grounding the fantastical scene in a more physical realm.
Qavavau Manumie, Untitled (Landscape), 2012, coloured pencil, graphite and ink on paper, 62.9 x 161.9 cm COURTESY MARION SCOTT GALLERY
Untitled (Abstract composition with aerial camp view and a circle of bird heads) (2009) is another more pronounced example of visual play. It depicts a camp scene on a mass of ice that is surrounded by boats, knives and hunting and cooking utensils, each housed on its own island of ice floating in an intense magenta sea. The structures on the central island are organized around a circle filled with vibrant blue and lime green dots and an arrangement of birds heads that look coyly out at the viewer. The pop colours and the striking juxtaposition of perspective and framing show the extent of Manumie’s inventiveness as a third generation artist situated within the art history of Inuit production in Cape Dorset.
This is a review from the Spring 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
 Candice Hopkins, Steve Loft, Lee-Ann Martin, Jenny Western. Close Encounters: The Next 500 Years, ed Sherry Farrell Racette (Montreal: Plug In Editions / ABC Art Books Canada, 2011).