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Shuvinai Ashoona Life & Work by Nancy Campbell
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Composition (Hands Drawing) 2014

Composition (Hands Drawing)

Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Hands Drawing), 2014
Pencil crayon on paper, 120 x 108.5 cm
Collection of Martha Burns and Paul Gross


Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Time Interrupted), 2006, ink and pencil crayon on paper, 101.6 x 26 cm, Art Gallery of Guelph.

Composition (Hands Drawing) embodies many of the motifs that have appeared in Shuvinai Ashoona’s work since 2005. The graphic centre of this composition is a large white hand holding a blue pencil. This hand is, in turn, circled by multiple arms and hands of varying skin colours. Shuvinai often draws people with different skin tones and hair and eye colours, sometimes referring to a specific person but more often to humanity in general—a humanity she has seen on television.

          The many hands seem to spin around the picture plane while the industrious pencils work away. Each hand in the drawing grasps a pencil and each is working on a different drawing, creating a collage effect on the page. Pencils, the lifeblood of the artist, are littered throughout the composition, waiting to be picked up and used.

          The pencils work on green and blue globes, mandala-like stars, and doodles. The globes—or, as they have come to be known, “Shuvinai’s world(s)”—are a familiar motif for the artist. Notable also is the presence of the large heart, spade, club, and diamond from a deck of cards in the far right corner of the drawing. The card suits appear in many works by the artist, as do Inuktitut syllabics, also seen here.

          Stories from the Bible resonate with Shuvinai, and iconography from these stories appears in her work. For example, the artist references the Garden of Eden in Untitled (David), 2007–8, in which she includes two green apples and one red apple at the very top of the page. Shuvinai states, “I had a book about Adam. I started rethinking about that book and put it with some of the things from the Bible. Lizards and snakes, maybe the snake of Adam and Eve. Temptation.”1  The drawing Composition (Time Interrupted) from 2006 also employs the motif of the apple, here the apple tree, in an image that, like Composition (Hands Drawing), employs Shuvinai’s technique of layering images.

          In Composition (Hands Drawing) six bald faces peer from behind the pieces of paper in the drawing, partly obscured by the drawing hands. These faces have stubble instead of hair and appear sickly. Who these onlookers are is a mystery, but like those holding the pencils, their skin tones and eye colours vary. This work is perplexing and unsettling, yet it effectively represents the fascinations and fears of the artist in a beautiful, playful composition.