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Shuvinai Ashoona Life & Work by Nancy Campbell
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Composition (Community with Six Houses) 2004–5

Composition (Community with Six Houses)

Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Community with Six Houses), 2004–5
Coloured pencil and ink on paper, 66 x 50.8 cm
Art Gallery of Guelph


Shuvinai Ashoona, Rock Landscape, 1998, Fineliner pen on ivory wove paper, 66 x 50.8 cm, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa. The detailed shading of black ink in a cross-hatch style lends a dramatic effect. Notably, landscapes that Shuvinai rendered in this style do not present any recognizable landmarks such as camping sites or buildings from her Cape Dorset home.

As Shuvinai Ashoona began to draw more regularly, she quickly adapted her techniques—and then adopted new modes of mark making. The late 1990s to mid-2000s was a period of much experimentation for the artist, in which she concertedly moved away from the small, sparsely rendered landscapes of her early work. She began to use larger paper formats and increased the concentration of line and dense cross-hatching, eventually introducing colour as well. She shifted her typical bird’s-eye, long-view vantage point for landscapes of Cape Dorset and started to explore landscapes of imaginative depth and multiple layers that included tunnels, nooks, and crannies at closer range. These rockscapes, as in two drawings from 1998 both titled Rock Landscape, seem to be composed in her imagination and, until the early 2000s, did not present buildings or other signature markers to denote a specific place.

          Her exercises in building compressed, imaginary landscapes are wonderfully realized in Composition (Community with Six Houses). The landscape is rendered in black ink and rises five levels from rocky ground that is delicately and intricately drawn in fine detail, with ink and coloured pencil. Shuvinai outlines every pebble, stone, and rock individually, giving richness to the tundra. A hydro pole, a ladder, and stairs connect the levels of the landscape. In a trick to the eye, the lower levels seem to have more light while the upper levels appear more densely shaded. A side-view glimpse shows six matchbox houses, typical in Cape Dorset, coloured in pinks and blues.1  Shuvinai likes the fact that the houses are hidden in this vertical place. She has said, “It would be nice to live hidden in the rocks where you could go up and down.”2 

          This drawing is one of the artist’s first attempts at using colour, marking another significant shift in her work. Here, and from this point forward, Shuvinai tends to combine her imaginative worlds with things she has seen or remembers, in this case, for example, the hydro pole and houses. The dense cross-hatching seen in earlier works loosens, allowing for more light and eventually lively colour to resonate through her compositions, giving the paper a chance to breathe. Composition (Community with Six Houses) shows the artist developing into her mature style.