Over the past half-century, the bold and imaginative prints and sculpture of the Cape Dorset Inuit have become recognized as some of the finest art in the world. Featured in major art institutions everywhere, and treasured by collectors across the globe, these evocative, almost mystical expressions have also become important symbols of Canada. In addition to the artistic expression that has captivated the world, Cape Dorset’s unique, world-class excellence in printmaking has been the driving force that allowed that art to become a commercial success. Since 1959, Cape Dorset’s printmaking shop has consistently produced annual catalogues of limited edition stone cut and lithography prints of extraordinary quality.
Kenojuak Ashevak was born in Ikirasuk, NU, not far from the settlement of Cape Dorset, in 1927. Kenojuak grew up on the land with her grandparents, living the traditional life with her husband Johnniebo. But in 1958, when James and Alma Houston began asking the Inuit people in and around Cape Dorset to consider drawing, it opened up a whole new world for Kenojuak and other artists like Kananginak Pootoogook, Iyola, and Qiatsuk Lukta.
Inuit Art Foundation board member Patricia Feheley explains:
From the beginning, everyone in the art community was astonished that talent this extraordinary existed in the “far North”. Critics and collectors alike were awestruck by the astonishing innovation of an artist such as Kenojuak Ashevak, who came out with her own graphic design and made fully resolved, beautiful compositions that bore no resemblance to anything – southern, western, northern – that anyone had ever seen. These were not derivative stories – these were stories that people had lived.
Today, Kenojuak’s art is featured in most of the major galleries around the world, and original prints, when they do become available, are considered extremely valuable, selling for as much as $40,000 or more.
Kenojuak’s list of honours and accomplishments would fill pages and include the Medal of Service and Companion honours of the Order of Canada, the National Aboriginal Lifetime Achievement award and the Order of Nunavut.
Kenojuak Ashevak passed away in the autumn of 2013.