Kavavaow Mannomee is, like Annie Pootoogook and Shuvinai Ashoona, part of a third generation of Inuit artists who are drawing attention to the art made above the Arctic Circle. Mannomee, now 51, lives in Cape Dorset, but spent the first few years of his life in Brandon, Manitoba, where his mother spent time in hospital with tuberculosis. In the 1980s, he developed a practice that involved meticulously translating other artists’ drawings into print form. Over the last decade, however, he has struck out on his own. His show at Marion Scott Gallery confounded anyone expecting a docu- mentary account of the Inuit way of life: this is work that documents instead the contours of an idiosyncratic mind.
The 28 pieces in the exhibition reflect a modern, eccentric sensibility. Cross Sedna, for example, doesn’t show us Sedna, the angry sea goddess who was transformed after her father pushed her from a kayak and cut off her fingers. Instead, the eerie, wide composition is an unpeopled waterscape whose calm is belied by turbulently purling waves breaking on the shore. The cryptically titled Skin Bear features a live polar bear in an odd-looking tree, besieged by a swarm of Lilliputian stick figures stripping it of its fur.
There is something almost surreal about Mannomee’s attention to detail and his delicate colour sense. He also plays with scale (animals are often huge and human figures small) in a way that suggests man’s vulnerability and dependence on the natural world, as well as a sad dependence on other things (as in First Drink/Bottles, with its man asleep in a flask and giant tern heads carrying bottles in their beaks).
Mannomee’s work titles are often no help at all—which seems in keeping with the endearing whimsy that characterizes his practice.