Northern Canadian artwork travels south to Kingston

Original Cape Dorset works come to Studio 22

Photo of Jet Stream by Ningiukulu Teevee. 
Credit: 
Supplied by Ally Jacob

Cape Dorset prints are famous for depicting Northern Canadian landscapes and lifestyle, but they’re rarely shown in their original form in Southern Ontario.

Thanks to the July exhibit at Studio 22, however, original artwork by four Cape Dorset artists will be showcased in Kingston until Sept. 10.

The gallery on King St., across from Springer Market Square, is giving Kingston art lovers the rare opportunity to see Cape Dorset original works up close due to a collaboration with print curator Ellen Fraser.

Fraser—former owner of Cornerstone Gallery in Kingston—promotes the artwork coming out of Cape Dorset through her online art gallery, Print Inuit. Fraser developed her love of Inuit artwork while teaching jewelry-making at Nunavut College. After selling Cornerstone, she kept her Cape Dorset art collection so she could continue her work promoting it throughout Kingston.

The work comes out of Cape Dorset on Baffin Island, where local artists have the opportunity to sell their work to the West Baffin Eskimo Co-operative every Tuesday and Thursday.

The Co-operative is then responsible for sending the purchased artwork to Toronto’s Dorset Fine Arts, where it’s made into prints and distributed for gallery shows and sales across the country.

From its start in the 1950s, the Co-operative’s work has earned Cape Dorset the reputation of being the Inuit art capital of the world.

“Once a year, the print co-operative up in Cape Dorset puts out an annual collection of prints—usually about 30—and I promote those,” Fraser told The Journal.

The earnings generated by these sales equal approximately $4 million annually. It’s a valued and necessary source of income for the community, said the owner of Studio 22, Ally Jacob. 

Cape Dorset prints have an easily identifiable style. They’re made from simple materials—pencil crayons, pencils, and blank paper. Many of the pieces depict animals found in the Northern territories, along with mountain landscapes and mythical creatures.

The subject matter depicted in the Cape Dorset prints are always unique to Nunavut.

They’re inspired by the icy surroundings and the Hudson Strait. The prints show viewers what daily life looks like in the North.

“There are a lot of pictures that make you imagine somebody being out on a Ski-Doo going fishing and loving what they see so much that they get off and take a picture,” Fraser said.

One of the artists whose work is being shown in Studio 22 is Ningiukulu Teevee. She’s the oldest artist featured in the exhibit, and her work depicts mythological Inuit legends. In one, Jet Stream, she painted a mermaid swimming. Poised like an arrow, the mermaid swims with her arms tight against her sides.

The mermaid is painted with Tunniit, which are Inuit face tattoos. The connection between Inuit culture and mythology is a recurring theme in the work in this exhibit.

The exhibit—titled Tavvauna, which means “here it is” in Inuktitut—showcases the talent that comes from a part of Canada far-removed from our mainstream culture.

“It’s always great to see something from a different perspective. It’s part of Canada, but a Canada that most of us don’t know,” Fraser said.

“I’m really happy to promote something that will get people thinking about a part of the country that they don’t know much about … and see Inuit art as contemporary, not just traditional.”

 
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