The Marion Scott Gallery is pleased to present Shuvinai Ashoona: A For Sure World. Opening October 14 and continuing through December 23, the exhibition brings together 35 images on paper produced across the last 15 years. The artist’s first major solo exhibition in Vancouver in a decade, the wide ranging show will give viewers on the West Coast a unique opportunity to experience the otherworldly vision and surreal sensibility of this acclaimed contemporary Canadian artist.
Ever since they first started coming to the public’s attention in the late 1990s, Shuvinai Ashoona’s densely worked images on paper have consistently startled the art world with their intensity of expression, masterful craftsmanship and imaginative vitality of vision. Working from her Cape Dorset base in Canada’s Far North, Ashoona has created a unique body of work in which the everyday is not always what it appears. By turns uncanny, comical and disquieting, Ashoona’s idiosyncratic dream-like imagery erases the distinctions between the natural and spirit worlds, and between the real and imagined.
Included in the exhibition are several works featuring Ashoona’s now trademark depictions of planet Earth, often portrayed multiple times within a single image. One coloured pencil drawing on black paper features Sedna, the half-human half-whale Inuit goddess, holding a green and blue globe in one hand and a traditional crescent knife, or ulu, in the other. In another image, a constellation of overlapping globes float over the horizon of a treeless northern landscape, while various cutting tools—axes, ulus and knives—seem to descend from the sky down towards the ground. With their combinations of indigenous objects and planetary motifs, these works form of a union of the local with the global as seen through the lens of Ashoona’s singular vision.
In a major untitled drawing from 2016, a female figure with purple tights and turquoise socks transforms into an unfolding series of snake- and monster-like creatures with tentacles. One of the artist’s most outlandish works, the figure’s torso is replaced with an image of the earth, while a second earth takes the place of the head. A single human eye floats across the surface of the upper globe. With its potent mother earth imagery and otherworldly tangle of shifting shapes, Ashoona’s large masterwork exemplifies her powerful female-centred expression. Other works in the exhibition are devoted to the theme of animal and bird bones. In a black-and-white extended format image from 2015, Ashoona has portrayed a multitude of tiny bird bones strung in a narrow band across the length of the page. Bird Bones is one of the most abstract images in the show.
The exhibition also features several portraits. In some of these works, people with big smiles or impassive stares are seen holding oversized bank cheques issued by the local co-op—a humorous reference to the well-publicized role of commerce in art making in Cape Dorset. In one large recent drawing, a group of three musicians in country and western attire play together, an amusing image of cultural dissonance in a northern context. Other works exemplify Ashoona’s distinctive approach to portraying the treeless Arctic landscape. Eschewing artistic convention, these horizon-less images render the northern terrain as series of abstract sculptural rock formations. In one densely worked image from 2005, monster-like creatures with long claws and horns emerge out of the rock shapes, giving the landscape a fantastic spiritual dimension.
The exhibition includes two recently completed monumentally scaled works made in oil stick. Taking full advantage of the medium’s rich paint-like character, these boldly coloured works serve as a surprising counterpoint to the artist’s quieter, more delicate pencil crayon and pen drawings. In one, an assortment of people join hands in a circle between some traditional white canvas tents and a boxy green wooden structure identified as an Anglican church. The second work is even more massive, and shows an underwater panorama featuring and an orange octopus-like creature, a fancy purple and red fish, bright green kelp and a patterned white and grey seal with flippers and claws, all pictured against a deep blue field. The largest work ever made by the artist, Aquarium recalls earlier images by Ashoona that portray aquatic life under the sea.
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