Visionary artist Siassie Kenneally from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, passed away recently in Iqaluit, NU. Over the course of her career, Kenneally produced an incredibly personal body of work that examined modern and traditional life from her own unique perspective. Kenneally was part of a new generation of Kinngait artists that emerged in the early 2000s. The group, which included her cousins Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona, sought to express the concerns of daily life using contemporary aesthetics and media, namely coloured-pencil drawings.
Kenneally’s drawings are a love-song to her culture. The artist’s depictions of country foods—freshly harvested berries in a black plastic bag, hot stew overflowing with caribou meat in an enamel bowl chipped around the edges, a flayed seal carcass sprinkled with fruit—are sumptuous and evocative.
Traditional clothing and tools were another favourite subject for the artist. Tactile and delicately rendered, Making Kamiks with My Mother (2016) presents a pair of boots being made from her mother Mayoreak Ashoona’s pattern. The drawing is a quiet scene of a mother and daughter working together and records an important moment of intergenerational knowledge exchange. Kenneally’s work regularly referenced her mother, also an accomplished graphic artist, carver and seamstress. Ashoona’s artwork had a direct influence on her daughter whose drawings similarly capture detailed scenes of life in the North— Ashoona’s largely scenes of camp life on the land and Kenneally’s in and around the community of Kinngait.
Kenneally’s scenes of hunting, fishing, feasting and daily life are perhaps her most unique. Often rendered from above, her drawings appear almost abstract upon first glance and demand viewers look closely to decipher a familiar scene from an unfamiliar angle. What originally appear to be strange groupings of geometric shapes slowly reveal themselves as a mug of tea, a sewing machine, a baseball cap or rocks in the snow. Kenneally made the familiar mysterious, the mundane exciting and the known unknown.
Kenneally’s prints and drawings have been exhibited across Canada and internationally and have been collected by the Canadian Museum of History and the National Gallery of Canada. In 2017 Kenneally was the subject of a solo exhibition at Feheley Fine Arts and later that year a feature-length interview with between Kenneally and Patricia Feheley titled All of the Things that I Have Seen was published in the Winter 2017 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
The Inuit Art Foundation would like to offer our sincere condolences to the family of Siassie Kenneally, an artist who has left behind an incredible legacy that documented her life and community. Each of her drawings is a careful recollection that encourages her viewers to look at the world, like she did, from a different perspective.