Shuvinai Ashoona: Drawings 1993–2007
At the Marion Scott Gallery until November 25
Shuvinai Ashoona's drawings flip between closely observed naturalism and visions of the fantastical, monstrous, and strange. A third-generation Cape Dorset artist, Ashoona is descended from creative royalty: her grandmother was the acclaimed graphic artist Pitseolak Ashoona, and the sculptor Kiawak Ashoona was her father. Her cousin Annie Pootoogook is much admired in southern Canada for her unsentimental drawings of contemporary Inuit life. Still, Shuvinai stands distinct from them all, bestowing an eerie or unsettling mood upon even her most quotidian subjects.
These include obsessively worked landscapes in which Inuit families camp, hunt, and fish among barren expanses of pebbles, stones, and rocks; detailed townscapes where Inuit adults and children work and play amid prefab buildings; and canvas tents with wooden doors scavenged from shipping crates. In an untitled domestic interior, executed in Ashoona's preferred media of ink and coloured pencil, a man sits on the floor carving a stone sculpture, a woman stands nearby making skin boots, and two small children lie on the floor behind her, reading. A clock and a picture hang on the wall, food and tools are set out on a piece of cardboard, and through the window, we see a parked Ski-Doo.
Contrast the detailed ordinariness of this scene with Ashoona's many representations of monsters, devils, and ferocious beasts. One untitled ink drawing depicts an enormous monster carrying a hapless Inuit man away in its fangs. With its long claws and spiny excrescences, the creature calls up both shamanic and Christian iconography. On the doomed man's glove Ashoona has written EDEN, a reference to her own strong Anglican faith and her belief that her fellow citizens in Cape Dorset need to find themselves spiritually.
Ashoona's vivid and often inexplicable visions are evident throughout the show, not only in images of man-eating beasts but also in dark, fantastical landscapes and recurring scenes of naked figures hanging crucifixlike from chains. One such scene occurs underwater, another on land, and a third in the rocky lair of a monster. These images of imprisonment and torture again employ Christian iconography, and are also suggestive of exposure to horror films, comic books, and other forms of western popular culture. This link is explicit in Ashoona's untitled still life of a TV set; a devil is clearly depicted on the screen, and an amorphous drip or cloud of blood red hovers in front of it.
One drawing here speaks particularly to the unconscious impulses behind Ashoona's creative process: an enormous pencil fills the page, its shaft inscribed with a picture of a fanged beast devouring a screaming woman. Explaining this work to Marion Scott Gallery proprietor Judy Kardosh, Ashoona recently said, "Sometimes the pencil is stronger than I am."