What does it mean to have a strong personalized vision in the face of decades of stylistic traditions and particular expectations about cultural art production? With a new exhibition opening at Studio 22 Open Gallery on July 16, we have the opportunity to explore this idea. Titled, “Tavvauna: Here It Is,” the show presents 21 original drawings by four women artists from Kinngait (Cape Dorset) on Baffin Island. Each of these four artists presents a singular vision of their Inuit heritage – whether it is the material, physical heritage of the land, or the more immaterial heritage of cultural traditions and stories – and each one of them is working outside the “norms” we in the south have come to expect from Inuit art (via the annual Cape Dorset print collection, though its imagery is also changing). The representations presented to us by these women are by turns intriguing, refreshing, mesmerizing and beguiling, and it is well worth a visit to experience these drawings first-hand.
The works in the exhibition are by the four women artists Ningiuluk Teevee, Ooloosie Saila and the sisters Nicotye Samayualie and Padloo Samayualie. Between them we have four very different styles and approaches to their subject matter, which ranges from landscapes to legends to everyday objects, to abstract representation. What the four women share with their art is its traditional subject matter from a very contemporary point of view. There is an immediacy to the objects and the environment that seems to show us how each artist perceives what is directly before her, and therefore what is important to her in that moment.
Ningiukulu Teevee draws her subject matter from the rich mythical tradition of Inuit culture, and while some of the subjects may by somewhat familiar, her approach is decidedly different. While utilizing elements of traditional style, Ningiukulu adds a contemporary twist, presenting each figure with a sense of personalizing the myths – it is almost as if Ningiukulu has placed herself in the position of each character and has internalized their story. On the other hand, she also gives us glimpses of the mysterious, as well as her own intelligence wit, as in the enigmatic image of the figure of Sedna in Ningiukulu’s drawing “Jet Stream.”
With Nicotye Samayualie, we have an artist who highlights the inherent patterns and repetition of form in everyday objects and familiar landscapes, elevating them to the level of fine art. By taking these themes as her subject matter, Nicotye monumentalizes them, opening our eyes to the beauty embedded in what otherwise might be overlooked. And the manner in which she does so is also fascinating, as she builds her forms through close attention to detail and repetition of patterns. Imagining the hypnotic process of delineating every pebble on a beach or every wave on the water, and observing those same painstaking details, is mesmerizing and highlights Nicotye’s close involvement with her subject matter.
In Padloo Samayualie’s drawings, we can discern similarities with her sister Nicotye’s subject matter, but Padloo’s stylistic approach is much broader in its applications, with less delineation of detail and more fields of solid colour. Padloo’s landscape drawings are somewhat traditional but are also very modern in terms of how she has created fractional views and patterns within each composition. In many cases, she has emphasized the geometry of form in the landscape rather than creating a standard “view,” so that recognizable forms become fragmented and abstracted within each representation. The exhibition also includes two figural works by Padloo, which follow a similar pattern in that they present each character in close-up, emphasizing the patterns in the tattoos on their faces and the decorative embroidery details on their amauti (woman’s traditional parka). While we have a sense of the personality of each woman, we are drawn to the shapes and patterns in the compositions as much as to their faces.
The most abstract-oriented of the four artists in the Tavvauna exhibition is Ooloosie Saila. Her abstractions are so accessible that, if you are new to looking at art in general and/or abstract art in particular, it is easy to appreciate her drawings and understand what you are looking at. Ooloosie uses bright colours and somewhat frenetic organic forms to represent her landscapes and figures, but they are still recognizable for what they are. As “abstract art” is an abstraction of identifiable form (as opposed to “non-representational art,” which doesn’t represent anything specific), her works are ideal for becoming comfortable with the concept of abstraction. Outside of that, Oooloosie’s drawings have an almost palpable energy that is highly engaging, and with that she seems to delve into the core of the land, tapping into its energy source to animate her drawings. While her drawings are at first glance very loose and organic, they are also controlled in their use of line and predominantly unblended colours, so they are less random than they at first appear. One can easily and enjoyably be drawn into the energy of Ooloosie’s landscapes and appreciate the personality and attitude of her owl drawings.
The annual Cape Dorset Print Collections have always had drawings as their base, and with new artists and third- and fourth-generation artists contributing to the arts of the co-operative and the Kinngait community, it is very interesting to see the changes that are happening in that sphere. With the Tavvauna exhibition, you have the opportunity to see first-hand how Inuit drawings are entering the mainstream of contemporary art, and you can take advantage of it until Aug. 17.
Kamille Parkinson holds a PhD in art history from Queen’s University and is the owner of Upper Canada Art Consulting (UCAC) in Kingston. The UCAC website is www.uppercanadaartconsulting.com, and you can also find UCAC on Facebook.
Art About Town
Agnes Etherington Art Centre
Puvirnituq Graphic Arts in the 1960s (to August 2019)
Stepping Out: Clothes for a Gallery Goer (to December 2019)
Any Saint: Emily Pelstring (to August 2109)
Let’s Talk About Sex, bb (to December 2019)
Rome, Capital of Painting (to Aug. 5, 2019)
The Art of African Ivory (to April 2020)
Kingston School of Art
Juried Art Exhibition (to July 28)
“Tavvauna: Here It Is” Original drawings from Cape Dorset (July 16 to Aug. 17). With Print Inuit: Cape Dorset 2018 Annual Print Collection
Look Up! New outdoor exhibit in Market Square (on the outside of Studio 22)
“Catastrophe, Memory and Reconciliation,” by Osvaldo Ramirez Castillo; “The Tangled Web of Emotions,” by Soyeon Cho (to Aug. 3)
Window Art Gallery
Juried Art Exhibition (to July 28)
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