Exploring Cape Dorset Art


A national travelling exhibition organized by the Winnipeg Art Gallery and curated by Darlene Wight


Kiugak Ashoona (b. 1933), Earth Mother, 1966-1967,

Green serpentinite stone, Collection of John Comrie and Salina Shrofel.




Kiugak Ashoona (b. 1933), Natturalik and Young Eating Fish), c. 1990,

Green serpentinite stone, Private Collection.

Click here for an illustrated list of works

Kiugak Ashoona grew up in camps on south Baffin Island in the 1930s and ‘40s where the shamanic world was a very real part of his life. In a publication accompanying this exhibition, he discusses his family history which includes the presence of many notable shamans, such as Alariaq, Aliguq, Namonai, and Kiakshuk. He relates fascinating tales of the shamans and great spirits and their interactions with the human world. Their stories, real or imagined, form the iconography of his artwork.


Kiugak Ashoona (b. 1933) began carving in the late 1940s and has had the longest artistic career of any artist currently living in Cape Dorset. He has received many honours during his career. In 1997 he received a National Aboriginal Achievement Award, and in 1999 he was awarded the Canada Council for the Arts Molson Prize. In 2000 he was inducted as an Officer of the Order of Canada. This solo exhibition is the first retrospective study of his artwork. It includes thirty sculptures dating from 1952 to 2008 and nineteen original drawings that have never before been studied.


Research for this exhibition was based largely on interviews conducted with the artist in Winnipeg, Cape Dorset, and Yellowknife. It also included a study of 140 of his original drawings, created from 1960 to 1981. The interviews and drawings have revealed that many of the artist’s sculptures, previously given vague titles such as “Spirit,” are from specific stories told to Kiugak in his youth. Sculptures depicting bird-like human figures are actually the eagle/shaman Natturalik (or Golden Eagle), who abducted a young woman and made her is reluctant wife. Several of these sculptures, such as Bird Creature from the National Gallery of Canada, and Natturalik and Young Eating Fish, are featured in the exhibition.

It is hoped that this small sampling of over sixty years of creativity will contribute to a fuller appreciation of the artistry of this important Canadian artist.

Darlene Coward Wight


DARLENE COWARD WIGHT studied Art History and earned her Master’s degree at Carleton University in Ottawa, where she began working as the Fine Arts Curator for Canadian Arctic Producers. Wight moved to the Winnipeg Art Gallery as an Associate Curator in 1986, and since that time, has mounted an astonishing seventy-six exhibitions. In 1998, she became the gallery’s Curator of Inuit Art, the role she continues to hold today. Venturing into Canada’s Arctic to conduct countless in-depth interviews with artists, she has published some twenty catalogues and numerous articles, and has lectured internationally. In October, 2012, the University of Manitoba bestowed an honorary Doctorate of Letters upon Wight in recognition of her tireless dedication to preserve, promote, and celebrate art by Canada’s Inuit.