Cape Dorset print collection 2023

Kinngait Studios has evolved and expanded from the day artist and hunter, Oshweetok Ipeelie, remarked to James Houston on the supreme patience and skill of the person who drew with painstaking precision the identical image of a sailor on every one of Houston’s cigarette packs. Houston used this opportunity to explain how multiple images are made. He demonstrated the fundamental principles of printmaking by rubbing soot over an incised walrus tusk and pressing a few sheets of toilet paper over the image to pull a few simple prints. Ipeelie - amazed and delighted - exclaimed, “We can do that.” Thus began a quest to find a genuine, indigenous and appropriate means of printmaking in Cape Dorset. Sealskin stencil and stonecut were the first techniques used. Later engraving and lithography were added, preparing the way for generations of master printmakers.

Since the first Cape Dorset Print Collection was released 63 years ago, the  community of Kinngait, this country, and the whole world have witnessed many radical changes, upheavals, and life-altering phenomena. From the completion of the St. Lawrence Seaway in 1959, to the moon landing in 1969, to the explosion of technological advances including the World Wide Web, and now a global pandemic and extreme climate change, Kinngait Studios has persevered. It remains the longest running print studio in Canada, while continuing to maintain the highest standard of printmaking excellence.

While the traditional styles and subjects of Kinngait printmaking are still popular among collectors, Inuit artists are becoming increasingly interested in creating art that reflects today’s reality in the Arctic. In this collection of 34 prints by 15 artists, we have a diverse array of themes and techniques that showcase each artist’s individual voice. They range from the traditional imagery of Pee Ashevak’s Sunlit Owl, to the more contemporary style of Saimaiyu Akesuk’s Breathless Spirit. Other expressions of modern life include Qavavau Manumie’s Smoking Raven, an etching that depicts a raven cleaning out the tics and fleas under its feathers with a discarded burning cigarette butt, and Shuvinai Ashoona’s Mending the World, a lithograph where the artist has injected surreal visions into depictions of contemporary Inuit life. In doing so, Shuvinai has overturned stereotypical notions of Inuit culture while capturing the dramatic changes experienced in recent history.

Kinngait Studios has developed extraordinarily from the first experimental prints pulled in the 1950’s to the notable work of many Inuit artists now recognized on the international stage. This year, Shuvinai Ashoona’s fantastical work was exhibited at the 59th Venice Biennale, Qavavau Manumie’s drawings were included in major exhibitions in Poland and South Korea, and a feature article in the New York Times - “Making Art on Top of the World” - highlighted the success of Kinngait as the Inuit art capital of the world.

David Hannan 


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