Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU graphic artist Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA has won the prestigious Gershon Iskowitz Prize. As the first Inuk recipient of the $50,000 award, presented annually to an artist who has made an outstanding contribution to the visual arts in Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) will mount a large-scale solo exhibition of her work in the next two years as part of the prize.
Born in Kinngait, Ashoona is the granddaughter of celebrated artist Pitseolak Ashoona, OC, RCA (c.1904–1983) and is part of a new generation of artists from the community, which include her cousins Annie Pootoogok (1969–2016) and Siassie Kenneally (1969–2018), who together expressed concerns of daily life in the North from their own unique perspectives using contemporary aesthetics and media, particularly coloured pencils.
“Shuvinai Ashoona has been at the fore of contemporary art for over a decade,” says Dr. Heather Igloliorte, Inuit Art Foundation Board Member and University Research Chair in Indigenous Art Histories at Concordia University. “Her work provides a distinct perspective, unlike any other artist working today, or ever. This major award is a recognition of the esteemed place she occupies in the contemporary art landscape, and recognizes her significant contributions to her community and the world."
Ashoona has exhibited her dynamic arresting drawings extensively both nationally and Internationally. Her detailed works on paper have previously been exhibited at the AGO as part of the 2017 exhibition Every. Now. Then and a number of her works are included in the institution’s permanent collection permanent collection. Ashoona was included in the 18th Biennial of Sydney in 2012, Sakahàn: International Indigenous Art in 2013 at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa, ON and UNSETTLED the 2014 SITElines Biennial in Sante Fe, NM, among many others. Ashoona was also part of the recent touring exhibition Earthlings and will be included in the 2019 edition of Manif d'Art in Quebec City, QC from February 16 - April 21, 2019. Her work has frequently appeared in the Inuit Art Quarterly and was on the cover of the Spring 2000 issue.
The news of the award was released on January 25, 2019 coinciding with the opening of ᓄᓇᙳᐊᓕᐅᕐᓂᖅ ᓄᓇᕐᔪᐊᙳᐊᓂᒃ Shuvinai Ashoona: Mapping Worlds, the first retrospective of the prolific artist’s work over the last two decades, at the Power Plant in Toronto, ON.
“I am delighted! I think it is fantastic that an Inuit artist has won this award, particularly an Inuit woman artist," says Nancy Campbell, curator of Mapping Worlds. "Shuvinai has earned this award, not just won it. She joins fantastic company of recipients through the generosity of the Gershon Iskowitz Foundation.”
Since 2006, the prize has provided an important platform to highlight the unparalleled contributions of 32 artists. Previous winners of the award include contemporary artists Rebecca Belmore, Brian Jungen, Liz Magor, Vera Frenkel and Ashoona's frequent collaborator Shary Boyle, among others.