TORONTO — Mythical creatures, fishing scenes, machinery, giant squid and quiet streets collide in the detailed drawings of acclaimed Inuk artist Shuvinai Ashoona. Inspired by daily life in Nunavut, her distinctive landscapes reflect a place where the everyday is imbued with otherworldly beings, spirits and unseen forces.
In 2018, Ashoona was named winner of the Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the AGO, an annual award for artists who have made an exceptional contribution to the visual arts in Canada, which is accompanied by a solo exhibition. Launching this summer when the AGO re-opens to the public, Shuvinai Ashoona: Beyond the Visible will present 25 new and recent works on paper.
Ahead of the exhibition, Ashoona joins Wanda Nanibush, the AGO’s Curator of Indigenous Art, in conversation on June 24 at 1 p.m. For more information and to register for this free Zoom talk, visit https://ago.ca/events/art-spotlight-shuvinai-ashoona.
A third-generation Inuk artist, Ashoona is based in Kinngait, Nunavut and works daily at Kinngait Studios, where she been a major force in the emergence of its contemporary drawing practice. In her recent works, she merges ink, graphite and colour pencil to create large-scale works in both vertical and horizontal formats. Curiosity (2020), a drawing acquired by the AGO at Art Toronto 2020, measures an astonishing 268 centimeters (8.7 feet) wide. Offering a bird’s-eye-view of her hometown, amongst the many buildings and roads depicted is a portrait of an Inuk family, a walrus, several seals and the curious tentacles of seven giant pastel monsters.
“I seem to start without exactly thinking of what I’m going to draw,” says Ashoona. “The pencil seems to say, ‘Hey, come on, catch me and do this part,’ or something like that. ‘Hey, look at this one – do that part for me, please?”
According to exhibition curator Wanda Nanibush, “Ashoona’s extraordinary imagination imbues her portraits of everyday life with the otherworldly. The descendant of a deep artistic legacy, her work is incredibly contemporary, bringing to the fore the joy of transformation and the unexpected. She sees beyond what is visible in her environment.”
To complement the exhibition, Ashoona’s recent work Making a Movie, will be on view in The J. S. McLean Centre for Indigenous & Canadian Art when the AGO re-opens to the public. And in late October, the large-scale pencil crayon drawing Composition (Leaf Boat), 2008-2009, a promised gift to the Gallery, will go on view.
Shuvinai Ashoona: Beyond the Visible is free for AGO Members, AGO Annual Pass holders and visitors aged 25 and under. Stay tuned for more information about the Gallery public re-opening.
@AGOToronto | #AshoonaAGO
Shuvinai Ashoona: Beyond the Visible is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.
In Partnership with The Gershon Iskowitz Foundation
Generous Support from Goring Family Foundation
Contemporary programming at the AGO generously supported by the Canada Council of the Arts
The Art in the Spotlight program is generously supported by
TD Bank Group, through the TD Ready Commitment
ABOUT SHUVINAI ASHOONA
Born in Kinngait, Nunavut in 1961, artwork by Shuvinai Ashoona is in the collections of the National Gallery of Canada, the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Winnipeg Art Gallery, Canadian Museum of History, Justina M Barnicke Gallery, the Art Gallery of Guelph, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts and the National Museum of the American Indian, USA, as well as private collections.
ABOUT THE GERSHON ISKOWITZ FOUNDATION
The Gershon Iskowitz Foundation is a private charitable foundation established in 1986 through the generosity of painter Gershon Iskowitz (1921 – 1988). Iskowitz recognized the importance of grants in the development of artists in Canada, in particular acknowledging that a grant from the Canada Council in 1967 gave him the freedom to create his distinctive style. Iskowitz’s works are in public and private collections across Canada and abroad. The Foundation’s principal activity is the designation of the Prize which is unique in that one can neither apply nor be nominated. A second distinct characteristic which many of the recipients have commented on is that the Prize is an excellent example of an artist supporting other artists. Iskowitz himself was actively involved in designating the Prize in its first years. After his death, this responsibility passed to juries composed of trustees of the Foundation and invited artists and curators. The achievements of the first 20 years of the Foundation and the Prize are detailed in the publication The Gershon Iskowitz Prize, 1986–2006; information on the recipients of the Prize from 2007 until the present can be seen at www.iskowitzfoundation.ca.
ABOUT THE GERSHON ISKOWITZ PRIZE AT THE AGO
At the 20-year mark of the Prize, the Foundation formed a collaborative partnership with the Art Gallery of Ontario to raise awareness of the importance of the Prize and through it visual arts in Canada. The AGO is home to Iskowitz’s archives, which include early works on paper, sketchbooks and memorabilia, and it holds 29 paintings by Iskowitz spanning from 1948 to 1987 in its collection. Beginning in 2006, the Prize has included a solo exhibition of the winner’s work at the Gallery. Among the many previous recipients of the Prize are Rebecca Belmore, Shary Boyle, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, Stan Douglas, Geoffrey Farmer, Vera Frenkel, General Idea, Betty Goodwin, Mark Lewis, Liz Magor, John Massey, Michael Snow, Françoise Sullivan, Irene F. Whittome and Shirley Wiitasalo. More information may be found in the Foundation’s publication in addition to its website at www.iskowitzfoundation.ca
ABOUT THE AGO
Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit AGO.ca to learn more.
The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.
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