Kiugak Ashoona: Stories and Imaginings from Cape Dorset

Kiugak Ashoona, Growling Lion, 1965.

McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg, ON • January 26-June 16, 2013

Beginning carving in the late 1940s, Cape Dorset artist Kiugak Ashoona (b. 1933) has had the longest artistic career of any of the artists currently living in Cape Dorset on south Baffin Island. Initially carving in ivory, he soon moved to stone when in 1951 Inuit sculpture began to be purchased for export to southern markets. Kiugak’s work changed dramatically from the naturalistic style and subjects of the early 1950s, to more shamanic and expressive forms in the ensuing years. The shamanic references stem from his childhood growing up in a camp at Igalalik on south Baffin Island. The camp’s leader and Kiugak’s father-in-law was Kiakshuk, a respected shaman and the source of much of Kiugak’s knowledge about shamanism. By the early 1960s, this experience began to be communicated through his carvings, and it was a topic much explored in interviews conducted by WAG Curator Darlene Wight over five days in February 2008—much of which informs the exhibition and attendant publication, Kiugak Ashoona: Stories and Imaginings from Cape Dorset.

Research for this exhibition is based largely on interviews conducted over several years with the artist in Winnipeg, Cape Dorset, and Yellowknife. It is also informed by a study of 160 of his original drawings, now on loan to the McMichael Canadian Collection from West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative in Cape Dorset.Wight’s investigation marks the first time these drawings have been studied. They reveal Kiugak’s themes in greater detail and diversity, clarifying the true subjects of many of his sculptures that have previously been given generalized descriptions. Over the years, many of his best-known works have been titled as “spirits,” “creatures,” and “shamans,” but interviews reveal that a great number of these entities are actually from specific stories, such as Natturalik, the eagle/shaman who abducted a young woman. Amazingly, the works at times depict specific shamans who were powerful influences in camp life before people moved into Cape Dorset in the late 1950s.

Kiugak Ashoona: Stories and Imaginings from Cape Dorset brings much deserved recognition to one of the few remaining “Early Masters” in Inuit art. This solo exhibition marks the first retrospective study of this important artist who in 1997 was the recipient of a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, in 2000 was inducted as an Officer into the Order of Canada, and in 2002 was nominated a member of the Royal Canadian Academy.


Artist: Kiugak Ashoona (b. 1933)

Curator: Darlene Coward Wight, Curator, Inuit Art, Winnipeg Art Gallery

Exhibition includes:
• 29 sculptures (stone, whale bone, ivory) and mounts
• 18 framed drawings and one framed print
• supporting materials: bilingual (English and French) introductory panels; map of the Canadian Arctic; photograph of the artist, labels for all artworks, with expanded text for many works. All texts provided by electronic files.
• 5 copies of the fully-illustrated exhibition catalogue, Kiugak Ashoona: Stories and Imaginings from Cape Dorset (128 pages). Additional copies available at discount upon request.
• packing and crating

Requirements of host institution:
• approximately 175 running feet for drawings and panels, 3,500 to 4000 sq feet for sculpture

Environment and security requirements:
• relative humidity: 50% fluctuations less than +/- 5% RH in 24 hours
• temperature: 20º C with fluctuations not to exceed 2ºC in 24 hours
• light levels 150 lux maximum
• security: constant surveillance when open to the public; security alarm system in use when closed to the public

Host venue length: 12 weeks

Tour Schedule: Summer 2011 to Fall 2012 (extension may be possible)

click here for illustrated list of works

For more information contact:
Helen Delacretaz, Chief Curator
Winnipeg Art Gallery
Tel: 204.789.0515


Kiugak Ashoona, Natturalik, 2007.

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