‘Stunningly beautiful’: Exhibit of Kenojuak Ashevak’s art opens in Newfoundland outport

Curator William Huffman, right, is pictured here assisting in unpacking artwork at the English Harbour Arts Centre in Trinity Bay, where an Inuit art exhibit has opened. (Submitted by Valerie Howes)

This summer, the English Harbour Arts Centre in Trinity Bay is host to 30 rarely seen works of art by renowned Inuit artist Kenojuak Ashevak.

The exhibit is part of a cross-country tour organized by the West Baffin Eskimo Cooperative, which Ashevak was a founding member of. 

“It’s been from Kelowna all the way here to English Harbour,” said William Huffman, the curator of the exhibit.

“Kenojuak Ashevak is arguably the most important Inuit artist, but also I think one of the most important Canadian artists,” Huffman said. “Her work is extremely iconic. It’s appeared on postage stamps, it’s appeared on currency.”

A drawing depicts several birds and foxes
Six-Part Harmony (2012) is one of the Kenojuak Ashevak works featured in the exhibit. (Submitted by Valerie Howes)

He said the tour began with an original display of the exhibit at the Kenojuak Cultural Centre in Kinngait, Nunavut. 

“The exhibit was meant to commemorate the the lasting impact that Kenojuak has had on the community.” Huffman said. “It was so successful in its Arctic iteration that we started working with the Department of Heritage to look at a national tour of the exhibition.” 

The exhibit in English Harbour is the eighth venue across the country and the first stop in Atlantic Canada. 

8 framed artworks rest on the walls of an old church.
This photo showcases several of Kenojuak Ashevak as they were about to be hung on the walls at the English Harbour Arts Centre. (Submitted by Valerie Howes)

Huffman said this is a very significant exhibit as the art work has been stored in the cooperative’s archives since Ashevak created them.

“This exhibition is meant to show work that is largely unseen because the drawings in this exhibition all inspired prints,” Huffman said.

“When a drawing is turned into a print, it goes into our archives. So they’re really unavailable to the public, and curatorial museums and galleries didn’t program the drawings that inspired prints, because they wanted the print. So this is really a special show.”

The exhibit is also offering a live link via Zoom to print makers working in Kinngait. 

“We’re able to organize a live connection between the artists and the community of English Harbour,” Huffman said. “It gives the artists in the studios and the staff of the West Baffin Cooperative a clearer sense, a more visual sense and interactive sense, of where their work goes in the world.”

Two birds are flying
Dancing Ravens (2000 – 2003) is another art work from Kenojuak Ashevak on display at the exhibit. (Submitted by Valerie Howes)

The exhibit is also special for the Trinity Bay area. Though the exhibit only opened on Saturday, Kim Paddon, the chair of the English Harbour Arts Association, said it has already been a big success. 

“I’ve never seen so much traffic going through our tiny little town,” Paddon said. “It’s wonderful, it’s exciting and it’s almost like we’re revealing a treasure because these pieces are having their debut.”

“We had people visit this show who flew here just for the show,” Paddon added.

Paddon said the exhibit also fulfills part of the association’s mandate, which is to bring cultural experiences to remote and rural areas that wouldn’t normally have that opportunity. 

“This certainly goes above and beyond all our expectations to be able to host an exhibit of this calibre and by an internationally renowned artist,” Paddon said.

Several people are having fun inside an old church. Multiple works of art can be seen along the walls.
The exhibit opened on Saturday, with a talk from curator William Huffman and a reception, pictured here. Kim Paddon, the chair of the English Harbor Arts Association, said the exhibit has already been a big success. (Submitted by Valerie Howes)

Paddon said the layout of the venue highlights all the qualities of Ashevack’s art.

“Our building, it’s almost as if it was designed to host this exhibit,” Paddon said. “When you walk around in there and see them in different lights at different times of day, it changes. They’re all stunningly beautiful and exquisitely crafted.”

Kennojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy Exhibition is open at the English Harbour Arts Centre until Sept. 30.

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