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Reviews / June 19, 2018

Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak

Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto, June 16–August 12, 2018
Kenojuak Ashevak, <em>Luminous Char</em>, 2008. Stonecut, stencil, 51.1 × 63.8 cm overall. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak. Kenojuak Ashevak, Luminous Char, 2008. Stonecut, stencil, 51.1 × 63.8 cm overall. Courtesy Dorset Fine Arts. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

Feasting is an important tradition to many Indigenous communities. At the June 13 Art Gallery of Ontario opening for “Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak”—the largest show of Inuit art in the AGO’s history—the Inuit curatorial team, honoured this tradition by serving seal meat that was harvested by a member of the Kinngait community in Nunavut. The curatorial team consists of five members: Koomuatuk (Kuzy) Curley, Taqralik Partridge, Jocelyn Piirainen, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory, Georgiana Uhlyarik, and Anna Hudson. In the words of multi-disciplinary artist and co-curator of the exhibition, Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory: “For Inuit, to share seal meat is to honour family and community. As Inuit curators, we wanted to honour Kenojuak and Timootee’s spirits and brilliance by doing what happens on kitchen floors, igloo floors, rocky shorelines and sea ice now and since time immemorial—by eating seal meat. For us, this is a symbol of unity and peace.” Shortly after Williamson Bathory was honoured for her ongoing contributions towards elevating Indigenous voices —she was named the recipient of the inaugural Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, a biennial award supported by the Inuit Art Foundation—the seal was placed on the floor of Walker Court, while Inuit community members carved out pieces with their ulus and knives, and distributed the delicious fresh meat to guests.

As an Anishinaabekwe hailing from Treaty 1 territory, I understand that hunted game is not only integral to Indigenous sustainability, but an incredible gift. A harvested animal provides its body: for nourishment, ceremony, kinship and survival. It was the first time that I have attended a seal feast, and I consider myself very lucky to have been given that opportunity by my Inuit kin. It was admittedly strange at first, to participate in an Indigenous tradition in an art gallery, as these institutions have historically contributed to the colonial subjugation of Indigenous peoples and culture. However, this was an active approach in the process of decolonization and indigenization. The AGO created a safe space to honour the late Kenojuak Ashevak and Timootee (Tim) Pitsiulak.

After this context and reverence towards the artists, the culture and the community, it was time to venture to the artworks. The first half of the gallery space consists of the artworks of Ashevak. They’re immediately recognizable due to their design-like qualities, vibrant colour palettes and varieties of bird species. Known as the “grandmother of Inuit art” and a Companion of the Order of Canada, Ashevak used her artworks as a platform for storytelling and imagination. I was delighted to witness Ashevak’s famous stonecut print of the iconic bird, The Enchanted Owl (1960), and her different variations of the artwork.

The second half of the gallery is devoted to the works of Pitsiulak. These are contemporary representations of the Arctic, such as a heavy mechanical drill titled Canadrill (2015), a commentary on modern Inuit housing and the ongoing process of colonization in these communities, and on the realties of climate change. The medium of drawing has been passed down among generations of Inuit; however, Pitsiulak took on a new perspective by introducing intricate angles and muted tones in addition to his contemporary subject matter.

“Tunirrusiangit” is a strong step towards a resurgence of Indigenous artists, thinkers and makers. Displaying a collection of artworks by two prominent Inuit artists requires a continuing relationship to land and language, and consultation from the community. The AGO’s Inuit curatorial team has done this in a concise and reciprocal way, providing a caring and attentive opportunity to reflect on these influential artists.

Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulakis open from June 16th– August 12th, 2018. Admission is free.


Clarification was made to this article on June 25th, 2018. The updated article includes the names of all members of the curatorial team.

Adrienne Huard

Adrienne Huard is a Two-Spirit/Indigiqueer Anishinaabekwe registered at Couchiching First Nation, Ontario, and born and raised in Winnipeg. After graduating in 2012 from the University of Manitoba with a bachelor of fine arts majoring in photography, she pursued a bachelor of fine arts in art history at Concordia University in Tiohtià:ke/Montreal. Huard graduated from Concordia in April 2018 and went on to complete OCAD University’s graduate-level program in criticism and curatorial practice. In September 2020, she began the PhD-level program in Indigenous studies at University of Manitoba. Huard’s research focuses on desire within Two-Spirit and queer Indigenous visual culture, specifically located on the Prairies. Her goal is to highlight these practices, which are often overlooked by the contemporary art world, while pushing to make them more accessible for Indigenous artists to participate. Huard curated her first program of queer Indigenous/Two-Spirit short films—titled Kinship and Closeness, co-presented by MEDIAQUEER.CA—which toured extensively across Canada in 2018. Since then, she has developed a curatorial collective, gijiit, alongside her collaborators Jas M. Morgan and Dayna Danger, who continue to work between Montreal and Toronto. Huard was Canadian Art’s Summer 2018 editorial resident, and is honoured to continue her journey with the publication as an editor-at-large.