By Nabeela Damji
In celebration of National Indigenous History Month, the AGO presents the works of two powerful indigenous artists Kenojuak Ashevak and her nephew Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak. This is the first time Inuit art has been exhibited at the AGO and is a great way for people to experience Inuit art and culture. Ashevak is a Companion of the Order of Canada and won the Governor General’s award in Visual and Media Arts in 2008.
The exhibit’s grand opening was June 13th, and the culture and traditions of the Inuit people were on full display at the AGO. After the opening remarks, seal was prepared raw and handed out to all the attendee’s. According to the AGO, in Inuit culture, sharing a seal is to honour family and community. It is a sign of peace and unity. On large boards and videos throughout the exhibit, there were quotes by both artists, talking about their culture and their work. In relation to the seal being served, Pitsiulak’s said :
“I’m a hunter and I know the land and animals of the North. I’m particularly inspired by the bowhead whale, because nobody really knows much about them. I’ve also drawn things I see around me in the community”.
As family members, the two artists work have many similarities in terms of technique, but showcase the different generations in their expression of art. Ashevak’s work is known for its storytelling and strong sense of design, and her legacy inspired her nephew Pitsiulak, who approached drawing with the belief that “art is part of everything.”
Ashevak showcases her love for inuit animals and is known for her love and interpretation of birds. She uses the shapes to explore line and colour as her base for her designs. Her 1960’s piece The Enchanted Owl was featured on a Canadian stamp in the 1970’s. While her nephew’s art is more modern, he still drew roots from his Inuit culture.
What’s similar between both artists are their techniques, brush strokes and representative elements. While they also both commonly used coloured pencil and felt pens, Ashevak’s style of artwork was presented on a smaller scale in contrast with her nephew’s work on a grander scale.
The exhibit is large and starts with Ashevak’s work and ends with Pitsiluak’s art. The flow from both artists shows the advancement of society in Inuit culture as well as the way each artist transcends art in their own time. Tunirrusiangit, in Inuktitut means “their gifts” or “what they gave”, and these two artists work showcases what they have given to the art community as well as the people who have yet to appreciate the Inuit culture.
Unfortunately , we aren’t exposed to Inuit culture due to societal norms. While change is slow, this exhibit sheds light on the extraordinary Inuit artists that are often forgotten and underrepresented in Canadian history. As a positive change, it is great that Ingenious people and their work are finally being showcased publicly. Make sure to check out the exhibit from June 16- August 12 at the Art Gallery of Ontario. You may also check out a workshop titled ART & IDEAS: INUIT ART, on Wednesday, August 8, 6-8 pm, at the AGO to learn more about Inuit art and culture.