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A Look at 5 Works from Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds

Nov 23, 2021
by IAQ

Opening in January of 2019 at The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery, Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, the artist’s first solo, nationally touring exhibition was seen by over 52,000 visitors across six provinces over two years. Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, a beloved graphic artist from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, is renowned for her dynamic and complex depictions of scenes of community life as well as phantasmagoric world-making. 

With stops at the Confederation Centre for the Arts (Charlottetown, PEI), The Leonard and Ellen Bina Gallery (Montreal, QC), The Vancouver Art Gallery, the Yukon Arts Centre (Whitehorse, YT) and the Glenbow Museum (Calgary, AB), today Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds takes on a new form through the exhibition catalogue, available for order now. To learn more, we reached out to those involved to hear more about the exhibition and their favourite works:  

It is important that Shuvinai Ashoona is recognized as an artist whose work resonates not only within her community, but outside in the wider Canadian community. I have always been impressed by the expansiveness of Ashoona’s practice, the subtlety of the details that you can see in each of her works, and how it speaks of the different parts of her life. It’s the sum of these parts that gives you a real understanding of the mastery of her practice, and how it affects everyone that comes in contact with it. By bringing together a selection of major works, first for the exhibition and now for the catalogue, alongside the voices of numerous curators, writers and artists, I feel we’ve been able to facilitate new encounters with, as well as understanding and appreciation of Ashoona’s work. 

Art historian and administrator Gaëtane Verna is Director and Artistic Director at The Power Plant in Toronto, ON, which led the major 2019 touring exhibition, Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, and its accompanying catalogue.

Shuvinai Ashoona_The World in Her Eyes, 2011_TD Bank Group Art Collection.

Shuvinai Ashoona
The World in Her Eyes (2011) Fineliner pen and coloured pencil 119 x 241 cm

The World in Her Eyes (2011) is perhaps Shuvinai Ashoona’s most optimistic drawing and one of my personal favourites. The portrait subject (left-centre of this large work) has globes for eyeballs, a sooth-sayer who can see the full beauty of the world clearly. What appears at first to be a hat is the disproportionate body of a polar bear nestled atop her head. A walrus serves as an ear muff with its tusks enveloping her right ear which, upon examination, is actually a folded swan. A serpent swirls around the entire portrait without malice. The final extension of the drawing is her hair of many colours; red, blond, black, grey and brown twirling together like electrical cords…each with a tiny globe at the end of each strand. 

Guest curator of Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, Dr. Nancy Campbell has been an independent curator of contemporary and Inuit art since 1993. Previously she curated Noise Ghost: Shary Boyle and Shuvinai Ashoona (2009), and is the author of Shuvinai Ashoona: Life & Work (Art Canada Institute, 2017).

Shuvinai Ashoona_Untitled, 2019_VAG

Shuvinai Ashoona
Untitled (2019) Graphite, coloured pencil and ink 128 x 295.5 cm

This work is special to me on a personal level, because it's one of the first works I proposed for acquisition at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Untitled (2019) stands out, both because of its monumental size–it's almost 10 feet wide–but also because it reminds me of dreaming and that familiar encounter between the unreal and the everyday. The hybrid creature pictured here could be seen as monstrous, so there's a possibility of some kind of risk. The observer with their iPhone seems, by contrast, totally indifferent to that potential risk. That’s what makes me think of my own dreams. When you’re in that state, you observe what's happening through another lens. At least, that's how I find my own dreams to be.

Tarah Hogue is a curator, cultural worker and writer and Curator (Indigenous Art) at the Remai Modern. Previously, Hogue was the inaugural Senior Curatorial Fellow, Indigenous Art at the Vancouver Art Gallery. Hogue contributed an essay to the Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds catalogue.


Shuvinai Ashoona
Earth Transformations (2012) Fineliner pen, coloured pencil and conte crayon 123 x 124 cm

Earth Transformations (2012) is a quintessential work by Shuvinai Ashoona. The piece foregrounds an essential theme in her work through two distinct icons–planets and octopi–both of which encapsulate the idea of a living, central core where everything is connected. This is the thematic river that flows under much of Ashoona’s work and is a profound observation and statement of our time. It’s the quiet intelligence of the planet, of the natural order, of the all-knowing octopus deity (metaphorically speaking) that will carry us forward out of the mess we’ve made. This is a masterwork by one of Canada’s more extraordinary creative minds, expressing a vision about our place in creation that we cannot ignore.

Art critic and author Sarah Milroy, CM, has held the position of Chief Curator at the McMichael Canadian Art Collection in Kleinberg, ON, since 2018, prior to which she was the longtime Chief Art Critic at the Globe and Mail. Milroy contributed an essay to the Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds catalogue.


Shuvinai Ashoona
Happy Mother (2013) Fineliner pen, graphite and coloured pencil 123 x 127 cm

Shuvinai Ashoona is an artist who makes impressive works teeming with detail where strong images of distinct scales overlap. She has described Happy Mother (2013) as a woman who is "birthing worlds." The six representations of the blue planets on the child's head are proportional in scale to the infant, yet despite their small size, they emphasize the symbolic value of the event. On close inspection, other seemingly incongruous details appear, such as the spiders on the pebbles, the backdrop for the work. Ashoona has created other birthing scenes, and in some years, they have made up most of her work. But Happy Mother is perhaps the most iconic of these.

Jacques des Rochers has been the curator of Canadian and Quebecois art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts since 2002. He is co-curator of the exhibition Riopelle: The Call of Northern Landscapes and Indigenous Cultures, circulating across Canada until 2022. Des Rochers contributed an essay to the Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds catalogue.

Shuvinai Ashoona_All Kinds of Spiders, 2011, NGC

Shuvinai Ashoona
All Kinds of Spiders in Different Views (2011) Fineliner pen and graphite 73 x 114 cm

All Kinds of Spiders in Different Views (2011) shows Shuvinai Ashoona returning to one of her first noted strengths: working strictly in black and white to depict an elaborate landscape. This scene is actively inhabited by creepy-crawly beings–not so much spiders as creatures with spider-like tentacles, while areas of the ground are made dense through an intricate proliferation of tiny pebbles. The result is in an image of beings that swarm with considerable energy making even the rocky background seem alive.   

Christine Lalonde is Curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of Canada. She has worked with Inuit artists across the North since the mid-1990s. Lalonde contributed an essay to the Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds catalogue.



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Since 1987, The Power Plant Contemporary Art Gallery is Canada’s leading non-collecting, public art gallery dedicated exclusively to contemporary visual art from Canada and the world. Governed by its board of directors, The Power Plant serves a strong network of community stakeholders and is a registered Canadian charitable organization, supported by its members, sponsors, donors, and funding bodies at all levels of government.


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