Samonie Toonoo

Samonie Toonoo


Samonie (Sam) Toonoo was a carver from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. Toonoo is known for contrasting light and dark elements within his sculpture to visualize the connections between people and spirits as well as themes of death, religion, pop culture and technology.

Toonoo began carving in his early twenties focusing on realistic depictions of Arctic wildlife and traditional Inuit activities [1]. As his artistic practice developed Toonoo began incorporating more human figures alongside text and abstract elements. Though he stated that he preferred working with bone his ability to combine materials resulted in dramatic effects [2]. His figures are often accented with hair lending an organic quality to the work. His artistic hallmark is the contrast of figures sculpted from dark, veined serpentinite inset with polished antler carved into angular, deeply contoured faces. He often depicted spirits escaping from and entering the bodies of his figures visualizing a connection between the physical and the spiritual. Toonoo’s spirits are not ethereal conceptions but physical manifestations that pierce, protrude from and suspend individuals.
Toonoo’s sculpture also serves as commentary on colonial traumas working their way through Inuit culture. His work God’s System, Alcoholic and The Suicide (2005) confront the effects of Christianity and the residential school system, substance abuse and depression that can be found in Northern communities [3]. At the same time he made works that resist and confound these colonial narratives. Break Dancers (2007), which was part of an exhibition hosted by the TD Gallery of Inuit Art depicts an unconventional subject for Inuit sculpture. Two figures appear side by side, one standing with his arms crossed, the other in a headspin. The figures’ defiant attitudes and showmanship are skillfully accentuated by subtle changes in the grain of the stone creating patterns in the figures’ clothing.

Toonoo’s talent is acknowledged within the artistic community. Though initially not widely exhibited his work continues to gain momentum among Southern audiences. The 2010 exhibition Scream: Ed Pien and Samonie Toonoo held at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery in Toronto was met with critical success. Toonoo has been profiled multiple times by the Inuit Art Quarterly.



2017: The carving Break Dancers (2007) was featured in an ad by TD Canada Trust on the outside back cover of the Inuit Art Quarterly.

Artist Work

About Samonie Toonoo



Artistic Community:

Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU

Date of Birth:

Artists may have multiple birth years listed as a result of when and where they were born. For example, an artist born in the early twentieth century in a camp outside of a community centre may not know/have known their exact date of birth and identified different years.

Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU

Date of Death:

Artists may have multiple dates of death listed as a result of when and where they passed away. Similar to date of birth, an artist may have passed away outside of a community centre or in another community resulting in different dates being recorded.


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November 27, 2017 Created by: Rebecca Gray