Today, the art world lost one of its strongest and most well-known voices: at the age of 85, renowned and celebrated Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak passed away in Kinngait (Cape Dorset). Kenojuak Ashevak was unquestionably one of the most well-respected artists living and working in the North. Born in 1927 in Ikirasaq, a camp in southern Baffin Island, she was one of the first women to join the graphic program when it was introduced to Kinngait in the 1950s.
One of the driving forces throughout the history of the printmaking program in Kinngait, Kenojuak has produced some of the most iconic graphic art in the North. Her famous print, The Enchanted Owl, has become synonymous for many people with Inuit graphic art. Produced in an unusual two-colour run of red and green, the image was chosen by Canada Post to commemorate the centennial anniversay of the Northwest Territories in 1970 (which then included all of Nunavut).
A colour proof trial of the green version has been a part of the museum’s permanent collection since we opened and has been included on our QR code self-guided tour (complete with audio guide track). We were very fortunate recently to pair it with a red version on loan to us a few months ago, as part of our tribute to her influence.
Though The Enchanted Owl is undoubtedly her most well-known work, she was a prolific artist who was best known for her whimsical, colourful images of birds. Her sense of composition was particularly impressive, achieving balance, power and grace simultaneously in many of her images. She also continued working and experimenting: in the last print collection, seven of the thirty prints were of her images, including the atypical but striking Red Fox.
Her impressive artistic output seems matched only by the recognition she received throughout her career: originally inducted in the to Order of Canada in 1967 as an Officer, she became a Companion in 1982. In 1974, she was inducted in the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts, and just last year she was inducted into the Order of Nunavut. Her work has been shown internationally in exhibitions in many museums and galleries.
Her impact on art production by Inuit has been enormous and has been felt on many levels. Her influence can be felt in many younger artist’s works and in many people’s appreciation for the art form. I know that was true for me. I had the distinct pleasure of meeting Kenojuak over two years ago here in Toronto when she was part of the Art Gallery of Ontario‘s Inuit Modern Symposium. I had just started working at the museum and was absolutely blown away that I was able to meet her. She was incredibly gracious, and I am so grateful to have been able to meet her and be inspired by her work. I am just one of the countless people who Kenojuak inspired with her art and who will continue to be inspired by her work and her career.
On behalf of everyone here at MIA, I would like to extend our sincerest condolences to Kenojuak Ashevak’s family, friends and community members. She will certainly be missed.
– Posted by: Alysa Procida, MIA’s Associate Curator and Director of Education