Exploring Cape Dorset Art


Organized by the McMichael Canadian Art Collection and curated by Sharona Adamowicz-Clements


Tim Pitsiulak, Climate Change, 2011, Pencil crayon,
64.8 x 49.5 cm, Courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts



Shuvinai Ashoona (born 1961), Tiny People Playing with Her Hair,  2012, Ink and coloured pencil on paper, 127 x 121.9 cm, Courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts


Jutai Toonoo, Thinking of Women, 2012, Oil stick and pencil crayon, 114.3 x 121.9 cm, Courtesy of Feheley Fine Arts

Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Identity in Contemporary Cape Dorset Art is the first exhibition that introduces the visitor to modern perspectives of Inuit artists. Inspired by Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece of the same title, Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?, the exhibition poses the questions: Who are we? How do we come to know and define ourselves? Is it vis-à-vis our physical and social environments, the people in our lives or our daily experiences? This exhibition is interested in the idea of identity—personal and collective, real and mythical, corporal and psychological—within the Inuit world, which is examined through (self) portraits and images of group gatherings. It represents real people and generic symbols of identity, such as femininity and masculinity as seen through the eyes of the Inuit artist.


Focusing on current trends in Inuit art-making, this intimate exhibition further highlights the works of leading contemporary Cape Dorset artists who have made huge strides, not only in the development of Inuit art, but in Canadian art at large. Artists include Shuvinai Ashoona, the daughter of Inuit art master Kiugak Ashoona, and her cousin, the renowned graphic artist Annie Pootoogook who, in recent years, strove to great stardom in the south and abroad. Other equally engaging artists are Jutai Toonoo and Tim Pitsiulak who, among other artists, have evolved the production of Inuit art both stylistically and thematically.


Revealing a unique voice of the author, the artists have documented and represented aspects of their daily life that reflect the mingling of both past traditions and a changing contemporary lifestyle that has been directly influenced by the south—through material culture, industrialization, urbanization, education systems, and technological advances. These “interventions” of the south are responsible for the ongoing process of acculturation of the Inuit which began with the arrival of the qallunaat (non-Inuit people) in the north. The artists who take the tone of social and political commentators demonstrate the impact of colonialism and globalization on their collective human condition, presenting depictions of personal and meaningful subject matter using rich content, attention to detail, multiple or exaggerated viewpoints, and compelling imagery.


It was in the 1950s when Cape Dorset’s people were introduced to the graphic arts, and art-making was just beginning to find its unique character in the north. The new works generally part from this traditional formulaic art of repetitive animal, spirit or human motifs set against empty space and white backgrounds that have come to represent Cape Dorset art since then. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? is a reflection on the culmination of artistic development in Cape Dorset primarily through second- and third-generation artists, which the visitor can attest to while tracing back in time through the two remaining exhibitions. Seen within the context of the greater artistic output of this community and vis-à-vis Kiugak Ashoona’s and the Pudlat family’s art, it demonstrates the rapid and tremendous changes that have occurred in this small art community in the Canadian arctic.
Sharona Adamowicz-Clements


SHARONA ADAMOWICZ-CLEMENTS is Assistant Curator, Collections at the McMichael gallery, where her work focuses on the McMichael’s permanent collection of Canadian art as well as other historical and contemporary areas of research. With an MA in Art History from York University, she is the curator of James Reaney: The Iconography of the Imagination; Following in the Footsteps of the Group of Seven; Bruno Bobak: Love, Life and Death; Contemplating Women, and curator and author of Diana Thorneycroft: Canada, Myth and History, an exhibition which travelled across the country to critical acclaim. Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going? Identity in Contemporary Cape Dorset Art brings together Inuit art practice with Adamowicz-Clements’s foremost interest in contemporary art and thought.


Artist Biographies

Annie Pootoogook

A celebrated Inuk artist who shot to great fame for her ground breaking graphic work, Annie Pootoogook was born in Cape Dorset in 1969. She comes from an impressive lineage of women artists: her grandmother was Pitseolak Ashoona and mother was Napachie Pootoogook. Growing up in an artistic environment, Annie developed her own sense of style and ideas that she wanted to share in her art. She prefers to create images of everyday ordinary life—group gatherings illustrating the family, relationships, people at work, people at leisure, domestic violence and a myriad of other social interactions and private situations in which she examines the banalities and complexities of human life.


In the past decade, her ascension in the mainstream contemporary art scene involved a number of solo and group exhibitions. In 2007, her work was exhibited at the prestigious contemporary art exhibition documenta XII in Kassel, Germany. A year earlier she won the Sobey Art Award for an emerging artist. Today Annie’s work is sought after by private and public collections in and outside of Canada. In Canada, her work can be found at the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Art Gallery of Nova Scotia and Confederation Centre Art Gallery.


Jutai Toonoo

A native of Cape Dorset, Jutai Toonoo was born in 1959.  He is the son of artists Toonoo and Sheojuke Toonoo, and brother to older Oviloo Tunnillie and younger Sam Toonoo, also accomplished artists. Sculptor, jewellery-maker, draftsman and poet, Jutai is a multi-talented artist of great passion. He uses the arts to address the blending of traditional and contemporary themes and as a vehicle of personal, social and political expression. His contemplative imagery oscillates between the personal and the universal, the mythical spirit world and real-life issues, the figure and abstraction, and portraiture and animal form. Jutai is the embodiment of the new “Inuit artist” recognized for his individuality and unique artistic strengths.



Kavavaow Mannomee was born in Brandon, Manitoba in 1958. As a young boy he moved to Cape Dorset to join his family. In the early 1980s, he found employment at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative as a printmaker transforming the drawings of older artists into prints.   At the same time, Kavavaow worked on his own drawings developing his own iconography and sense of style. Today, Kavavaow, among a new generation of contemporary Inuit artists, is redefining art-making in the Arctic. Best known for his depictions of the legendary world of little people, he has also created a wealth of bird, marine and other wildlife imagery.



Inuk artist and writer, Ningeokuluk Teevee was born in Cape Dorset in 1963. She is the daughter of deceased artist Joanasie Salomonie. As a member of the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative, Ningeokuluk works as a graphic artist depicting the oral legends and contemporary life of her people. Part of a new wave of forward thinking Cape Dorset artists, she is unique in her artistic methodology and in her response to representing changing times in the Arctic. In 2009, Ningeokuluk published her first autobiographical and children’s book Alego about the seashore adventures of a young girl named Alego and her grandmother. Through her efforts as a proud Inuk writer, she is able to preserve and celebrate the culture of her people.



Born in Cape Dorset in 1961, Shuvinai Ashoona is one of the most celebrated Inuk women artists to recently come out of Canada’s North. She is the granddaughter of the late Pitseolak Ashoona, the daughter of Kiugak Ashoona and the late Sorosiluto Ashoona, the niece of the late Napachie Pootoogook, and cousin of Annie Pootoogook, all well-respected artists. As part of a new generation of remarkable artists, Shuvinai has found a language of her own in the graphic arts to convey the world as she knows it. She first burst onto the art scene in 1999 with her monochromatic landscapes of the Arctic, both real and imaginary, and from there developed a personal iconography around images of eggs, cards, group scenes and modern settlement life. In the past several years, her reputation as a serious and innovative artist has grown rapidly. She has participated in numerous solo and group exhibitions, and is the subject of a number of publications. Her work can be found in private and public collections including the National Gallery of Canada, Art Gallery of Ontario, Winnipeg Art Gallery, Montreal Museum of Fine Arts, and the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.



Tim Pitsiulak was born in Kimmirut (Lake Harbour), Nunavut in 1967. In his native community, he developed an interest in jewellery-making and metalwork for which he earned a diploma from Nunavut Arctic College in 2007. In the early part of the twenty-first century, he moved to Cape Dorset where he became involved with the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative. Tim has further developed skills as a carver, draftsman and printmaker, in addition to being a skilled hunter. His imagery evolved from animals to daily life scenes (including hunting on the land) with a focus on air, land and sea machinery.