The Winnipeg Arts Gallery joins the Inuit and arts community in mourning the loss of Inuit carver Kiugak Ashoona. The Order of Canada inductee was 81.
“The Winnipeg Art Gallery is saddened by this great loss to the arts community,” comments Dr. Stephen Borys, WAG Director & CEO. “Kiugak Ashoona had the longest career of any artist currently living in Cape Dorset on south Baffin Island. He was an ambassador for Cape Dorset. He will be missed immensely.”
Ashoona began making ivory carvings in the 1940s and transitioned to stone in 1951 when sculpture was first purchased for export to southern markets. His work soon changed dramatically from the naturalistic style and subject matter of the early 1950s to feature more of the shamanism experience. In the early 1960s, Kiugak Ashoona began putting his knowledge and experience of shamanism into his carvings.
Drawings were also part of his portfolio and revealed that many of the artist’s carvings, previously given vague titles such as “Spirit,” were from specific stories told to Ashoona in his youth.
“Kiugak was the last of the early masters who began carving in the 1940s,” says Darlene Coward Wight, WAG Inuit Curator. “He will be missed by the many members of his family and younger carvers who he inspired to become artists themselves.”
The WAG featured Ashoona in two exhibitions and his carvings are part of the Gallery’s contemporary Inuit art collection, the largest of its kind in the world. In 2006, his work was celebrated in Early Masters: Inuit Sculpture, 1949-1955, an exhibition and catalogue organized by the WAG. The WAG also organized the artist’s first retrospective, Kiugak Ashoona: Stories and Imaginings from Cape Dorset, which opened in fall 2010.
Ashoona’s accolades are vast. In 1980, his sculpture of the Inuit sea goddess Sedna was featured on a 1980 Canadian stamp. He received the National Aboriginal Achievement Award in 1997 and was later inducted into the Order of Canada as an Officer in 2000. He was nominated a member of the Royal Canadian Academy in 2002.
Report courtesy Winnipeg Art Gallery.