Kiugak Ashoona

Kiuguk (Kiawak) Ashoona was an accomplished sculptor and printmaker from Tariugajak, NU who later on relocated to Kinngait (Cape Dorset). Ashoona began carving in 1940 at the age of fourteen, making miniature sleds out of walrus ivory [1]. He was one of the first artists to begin carving in Kinngait and was an early participant in the art production movement in 1951 [2].

Ashoona’s sculptures are recognizable for their dramatic imagery and fluidity and are often highly detailed and depicted in dynamic postures. Ashoona frequently used serpentine as a medium for his sculpture and would polish the surface of the stone to highlight splashes of mottling and changing veins of colour. Ashoona preferred to begin his pieces by first carving the heads of his figures, which resulted in intense and refined facial expressions [3]. He also valued taking time with his sculpture to ensure that he was satisfied with the quality and detail of his work [4].

The 1988 piece titled Hunter is an adept demonstration of Ashoona’s skill. The spear lengthens the reach of the hunter’s arm and draws the viewer’s attention towards the hunter’s face. The hunter’s body is positioned in a state of tension as they are just about to release with all of the weight balanced above the right foot. The viewer is captivated by the drama of the moment and the focus of the hunter’s expression. Many of Ashoona’s sculptures reference Inuit oral traditions. Eagles were a frequent motif for Ashoona, appearing as shamans, spirits and in states of transformation. The relationships between people and non-human beings to one another and the land comprised the major themes of Ashoona's artistic narrative.
Although less well known for his prints, Ashoona was a talented illustrator. He visualized subjects within his prints with the same tactile sense of flow as he might have carved them out of stone. His earlier prints are monochromatic and largely of animals, while his later works incorporate more colours and depict community events and stories. In the engraving Bear Attacking Walrus (1963) hatch marks and fine lines represent the skin and musculature of the walrus in a style evocative of the curves and changes in light of his sculpture. His illustrative skill is further evident in his incised walrus tusks, which feature detailed renderings of Arctic wildlife.

Ashoona has received extensive recognition for his work. In 1980 his sculpture Sea Goddess was reproduced on the Canadian seventeen-cent stamp. In 1997 he was the recipient of the National Aboriginal Achievement Award (now referred to as the Indspire Award). He was invested as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 2000 and elected as a Member of the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts in 2003.

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Accomplishments

June 21, 1988: One of Ashoona's carvings was presented to U.S. president Ronald Reagan at the Summit Meeting in Toronto.

1971: Ashoona's sculpture, Howling Spirit (Tornrak) and its Young (1962) is featured on the cover of the Sculpture/Inuit touring exhibition catalogue.


Citations/Footnotes

1. Koomautuk Curley, “Kiawak Ashoona: One of the original Inuit artists who brought Inuit art to the world”, Inuit Art Quarterly, 27 no. 4(Winter 2014): 36.
2. Darlene Coward Wight, “Tribute: Kiugak Ashoona (1933-2014)”, Inuit Art Quarterly 28 no. 1 (Spring 2015): 12.
3. “Lot 51 KIAWAK ASHOONA, O.C., R.C.A., CAPE DORSET/KINNGAIT, E7-1103, Cape Dorset”, Waddingtons, accessed January 18, 2018, https://www.waddingtons.ca/pastauction/631/lot-51.
4. Curley, “Kiawak Ashoona”, 39.