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Get a bird’s-eye view

July 20th, 2018

Drawing of a large bird with bright gold patterned wings

Kenojuak Ashevak, Large Bird from the Sun, 1979. Stonecut and stencil on paper, Sheet: 62.5 × 83.1 cm. Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick, Toronto, 2002. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

Wondering if the AGO has gone to the birds? Visitors to the current hit exhibition Tunirrusiangit: Kenojuak Ashevak and Tim Pitsiulak might just think so. Featuring over 100 works on paper by two of the most celebrated Inuit artists, the exhibition is teeming with striking depictions of polar bears, musk ox, caribou, seals and over 90 birds, among many other real and imagined creatures.

Born in 1927 on Baffin Island, Kenojuak Ashevak drew inspiration from her surroundings, and in her bold, graphic depictions, bestowed on the birds she knew intimately a flirtatious, often surreal, quality. Although Kenojuak means hawk in Inuktitut, it is owls that appear most frequently in her art. “I am the light of happiness and I am a dancing owl,” she said famously, adding that when she sat down to draw, it was the image of an owl that often came to her.

Black and red drawing of an owl

Kenojuak Ashevak. The Enchanted Owl, 1960. Stonecut on paper, 59.7 x 65 cm. Art Gallery of Ontario. Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick, Toronto, 2002. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

Kenojuak’s most famous bird, The Enchanted Owl (1960) brought the artist national recognition in 1970, when Canada Post used it on a stamp to commemorate the centennial of the Northwest Territories.

A drawing of two ravens

Kenojuak Ashevak, Two Ravens, 1968. Stencil, Overall (sheet): 50.5 x 63.4 cm. Gift of the Klamer Family, 1978. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

One of the few birds to live in the Arctic year-round, ravens mate for life and live in pairs. A popular fixture in Inuit myth and legend, the Raven is often portrayed as a trickster. Visitors can listen to exhibition co-curator Taqralik Partridge’s re-telling of the classic Inuit legend The Owl and the Raven, inside the exhibition.

Drawing of an owl with birds growing out of it

Kenojuak Ashevak, Bountiful Bird, 1986. Colour lithograph on paper, Sheet: 58 × 77.6 cm. Gift of Samuel and Esther Sarick, Toronto, 2002. © Estate of Kenojuak Ashevak.

A lithograph on paper, Kenojuak created this portrait of an owl, at the age of 59, well into her third decade of art-making. “Bountiful Bird is so full of creative force” says Taqralik, “that she gives birth to young seagulls at the ends of her plumage. Her flirtatious eyes and firm stance tell us that she knows herself and her powers, and she has many surprises yet to come.”

Be sure to also check out Tim Pitsiulak’s Three Cranes!

Stay tuned for more AGOinsider stories about this exciting exhibition, on now through August 12.

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