Kenojuak Ashevak Biography

Kenojuak Ashevak

Canadian Inuit



Kenojuak Ashevak was born on October 3, 1927 in an igloo in an Inuit camp, Ikirasaq at the southern coast of Baffin Island. Her father, Ushuakjuk, an Inuit hunter and fur trader, and her mother, Silaqqi, named Kenojuak after Silaqqi's deceased father. According to this Inuit naming tradition, the love and respect that had been accorded to her during her lifetime would now pass on to their daughter. Kenojuak also had a brother and a sister.

Kenojuak remembered Ushuakjuk as "a kind and benevolent man." Her father, a respected shaman, "had more knowledge than average mortals, and he would help all the Inuit people." According to Kenojuak, her father believed he could predict weather, predict good hunting seasons and even turn into a walrus; he also had the ability "to make fish swarm at the surface so it was easier to fish." Her father came into conflict with Christian converts, and some enemies assassinated him in a hunting camp in 1933, when she was only six.

After her father's murder, Kenojuak moved with her widowed mother Silaqqi and the rest of the family to the home of Silaqqi's mother, Koweesa, who taught her traditional crafts, including the repair of sealskins for trade with the Hudson's Bay Company and how to make waterproof clothes sewn with caribou sinew.

When she was 19, her mother, Silaqqi, and stepfather, Takpaugni, arranged for her to marry Johnniebo Ashevak (1923–1972), a local Inuit hunter. Kenojuak was reluctant, she said, even playfully throwing pebbles at him when he would approach her. In time, however, she came to love him for his kindness and gentleness, a man who developed artistic talents in his own right and who sometimes collaborated with her on projects; the National Gallery of Canada holds two of Johnniebo's works, Taleelayo with Sea Bird (1965) and Hare Spirits (1960).

In 1950 a public health nurse arrived in her Arctic village; Kenojuak, having tested positive in a tuberculosis screening, was sent against her will to Parc Savard hospital in Quebec City, where she stayed for over three years, from early 1952 to the summer of 1955. She had just given birth when she was forcibly transferred; the baby was adopted by a neighbouring family. Several of Kenojuak's children died while she confined in hospital.

In 1966, Kenojuak and Johnniebo moved to Cape Dorset. Many of their children and grandchildren succumbed to disease, as did her husband after 26 years of marriage. Three daughters of Kenojuak, Mary, Elisapee Qiqituk, and Aggeok, died in childhood, and four sons, Jamasie, her adopted son Ashevak, and Kadlarjuk and Qiqituk. The latter two were adopted at birth by another family.

The year after Johnniebo died in 1972, Kenojuak remarried, to Etyguyakjua Pee; he died in 1977. In 1978 she married Joanassie Igiu. She had 11 children by her first husband and adopted five more; seven of her children died in childhood. At the time of her death from lung cancer, on January 8, 2013, she was living in a wood-frame house in Kinngait (Cape Dorset).

Kenojuak Ashevak became one of the first Inuit women in Cape Dorset to begin drawing. She worked in graphite, coloured pencils and felt-tip pens, and occasionally used poster paints, watercolours or acrylics. She created many carvings from soapstone and thousands of drawings, etchings, stonecut prints and prints — all sought after by museums and collectors. She designed several drawings for Canadian stamps and coins, and in 2004 she created the first Inuit-designed stained-glass window for the John Bell Chapel in Oakville, Ontario. In 2017, the $10 bill released in celebration of Canada’s 150th birthday features Kenojuak’s stone-cut and stencil printed work called "Owl’s Bouquet" in silver holographic foil.

During her stay at Parc Savard hospital in Quebec City, 1952 to 1955, she learned to make dolls from Harold Pfeiffer and to do beadwork. These crafts later attracted the attention of civil administrator and pioneer Inuit art promoter James Archibald Houston and his wife Alma. Houston introduced print-making to Cape Dorset artists in the 1950s, and he and his wife began marketing Inuit arts and crafts, including an exhibit of Inuit art in 1959.

copied from Wikipedia