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Shuvinai Ashoona Life & Work by Nancy Campbell
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Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters) 2015

Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters)

Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters), 2015
Ink and coloured pencil on paper, 96.5 x 123 cm
Collection of Paul and Mary Dailey Desmarais


Installation view of Universal Cobra at Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain, Montreal, 2015, photograph by Paul Literland. InaGodadavida is on the right.

Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters) is a major work in the evolution of Shuvinai Ashoona’s practice. It was first exhibited in 2015 in a collaborative two-person show at Feheley Fine Arts in Toronto and Pierre-François Ouellette art contemporain in Montreal. Titled Universal Cobra: Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle, this groundbreaking show included work by each artist, plus a number of exquisite collaborative drawings.1 

          In Shuvinai’s body of work from the second decade of the twenty-first century, surreal elements reveal an increasing freedom in imagery that juxtaposes fantastical monsters, sea creatures, people, and popular culture in rich colour. Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters) shows this to brilliant effect and is at once violent and humorously absurd. Two large octopi stand on legs. One, bright orange, has the hairy legs of a wolf-like beast with large red claws. Oddly shaped eyes encircle the head, peering in all directions. This octopus joins arms with a grey one with the white legs of a human. Instead of eyes, a ring of faces encircles its head; these faces have different skin tones and hair colours typical of Shuvinai’s representation of humankind.

          A white, blond-haired man in a bright green parka stands in the centre of the picture. The man’s arms are raised and his mouth open in alarm. The background is a detailed rocky outcrop typical of the artist’s landscapes. A photographer, crouched beneath the large paw of one of the monsters, seems oblivious to the drama that is unfolding above him, focusing his lens instead on the small dancing creatures before him. At the left side of the picture plane we see the arm of a person attempting to pull the orange monster away. There are seldom explanations for Shuvinai’s imaginings; rather, they appear as dramatic stories that delight the artist.

Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle, InaGodadavida, 2015, ink and coloured pencil on paper, 123 x 218 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa.

          Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle (b. 1972) both create drawings that are simultaneously personal and dream-like, suggesting altered states of mind and shifting perceptions. In the Universal Cobra exhibition, they literally shared the paper in five of the works. The collaborative process involved Shary beginning the drawings, leaving ample space for Shuvinai to come to the work and expand on the image. The results are compelling and speak to the natural synchronicity between these two artists. InaGodadavida, 2015, is a spectacular composition that is both fanciful and disturbing, melding the motifs of both artists in a seamless composition. Boyle explains, “Shuvinai came up with the title. After we made the drawing and were looking at it together, she said something like ‘When I see that area, the river flowing toward there, I just hear In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida, baby,’ and at that point she started to sing the Iron Butterfly song.”2 

          Both Composition (Attack of the Tentacle Monsters) and InaGodadavida showcase the progression and mastery of Shuvinai’s artistic vocabulary. Hers has become a world of the artist’s imaginings that is embedded in her Inuit upbringing and environs but remains singularly her own. Like the Surrealists before her, Shuvinai uses her imagination and free association to produce surprising, unexpected imagery.