Celebrated graphic artist Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, will make her Venice Biennale debut this year in the 59th Biennale’s central exhibition, The Milk of Dreams, on view from April 23 to November 27 in Venice, Italy, this year. Ashoona’s work will be on view alongside more than 1,000 works from 213 artists. Ashoona is part of a significant 180-strong cohort of chosen artists who have never before been featured in the Venice Biennale shows.
Ashoona is a prolific artist from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU, whose career stretches from 1993, when her works first started appearing in the Kinngait Studios archives, to the present day. A solo show of her work recently opened at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Miami, Florida. Although this is her first showing at the Venice Biennale, Ashoona’s work was previously represented at the 2012 Biennale of Sydney.
The Milk of Dreams is curated by Cecilia Alemani, whose curatorial vision for the exhibition is to create a dialogue between the present, the past and stories of exclusion. The narrative of exclusion is one of the driving reason behind the many new faces in this year’s exhibition, and the high proportion of artists who are female and/or queer. To facilitate this dialogue, the exhibition will have three main components: envisioning bodies and their metamorphoses, the relationship between individuals and technologies and the connection between bodies and the Earth.
Ashoona is not what anyone could call a new face in the art world; with multiple solo shows both in Canada and internationally, Ashoona was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2016 and awarded the Gershon Iskowitz Prize in 2018 for her outstanding contribution to the visual arts in Canada.
However, her body of work often features figures in heightened states of transformation and change, in addition to many, many representations of the Earth, making her a strong fit with two of the exhibitions’ central modes of inquiry. Her work “suggest[s] new mergers of the organic and the artificial, whether as a means of self-reinvention or as a disquieting foretaste of an increasingly dehumanised future,” said Alemani in the WBEC press release announcing Ashoona’s involvement.
Inuit art and artists have enjoyed an increased presence at the Venice Biennale in recent years; artist collective Isuma took over the Canada Pavilion at the last Biennale in 2019, while in 2017, the Biennale before that, Kananginak Pootoogook became the first Inuit artist ever to be presented at the fair. As a further presence for circumpolar Indigenous art at this year’s fair, artists Pauliina Feodoroff, Máret Ánne Sara and Anders Sunna will transform the Nordic Pavilion into the Sámi Pavilion, marking the first time that Sámi are recognized as a nation in a pavilion bearing their name.