“It’s not just art. It’s something for my life.”
– Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013)
Spanning more than five decades, Kenojuak Ashevak’s prolific career made her one of the Inuit’s most influential graphic artists. She was born on the southern coast of Baffin Island and raised in a semi-nomadic lifestyle, and her art has taken her beyond Nunavut to share the colourful and delightfully stylized iconography of Inuit art with a global audience.
Kenojuak Ashevak is perhaps most famous for “The Enchanted Owl” (1960), a print memorialized on a postage stamp in 1970, commemorating the centennial of the Northwest Territories. Her vibrant and piercing owls have been featured on various Canadian currencies and stamps… If you happen to have a $10 bill lying around, take a look and see if you can spot one yourself!
In her mid 20s, when Kenojuak moved to Cape Dorset with her husband, Johnniebo Ashevak, and began to pursue drawing. She was soon encouraged by James Houston, founder of the West Baffin Printmaking Co-operative, to develop her skills with a larger variety of materials. Kenojuak was one of the first female artists in Cape Dorset and the first ever woman involved in the Printmaking Co-op.
LUMINOUS CHAR, 2008
Stonecut and Stencil
Image Courtesy of Dorset Fine Arts
From there, Kenojuak’s career took off in Canada and on the global stage, where she continued to challenge herself with new materials. Together with her husband, Kenojuak painted a mural for the 1970 World’s Fair in Osaka, Japan, where interest in Inuit art was gaining momentum. In 2004, she created a stained glass window at the chapel of Appleby College in Oakville in memory of Rt. Rev. Andrew Atagotaaluk, Bishop of the Arctic.
Always humble and good humoured about her work, in a 2010 RCI interview at her Cape Dorset home, Kenojuak said, “I’m happy I can support my children, my grandchildren, and my great-grandchildren.” She also speaks about the impacts of climate change on Inuit art and offers her gratitude to the art buyers whom she hopes will continue to show interest in modern Inuit artists “for another 50 years.”
Black Felt Pen on Graphite Woven Paper
Image Courtesy of National Gallery of Canada
If Kenojuak Ashevak’s playfully enchanting work speaks to you, check out this digital print catalogue of Eskimo Graphic Arts (1959) which includes one of Ashevak’s first prints, “Rabbit Eating Seaweed” (1958). A more modern collection of Inuit art can be found in the Inuit Art Quarterly by the Inuit Art Foundation.
The IAF, who grant the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award to Inuit artists, offer multiple ways to give back to the community and support Inuit artists at every stage of their careers.