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Shuvinai Ashoona Life & Work by Nancy Campbell
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Discombobulated Woman 1995–96

Discombobulated Woman

Shuvinai Ashoona, Discombobulated Woman, 1995–96
Fineliner pen and coloured pencil on paper, 33 x 50.7 cm
Dorset Fine Arts, Toronto


Discombobulated Woman is a fascinating example of an early work and a forerunner of the many disjointed or disconcerting figures in landscapes in Shuvinai Ashoona’s oeuvre that would follow. This early work shows an Inuit artist taking an approach unique to those that had come before her—her style had not been seen in drawings coming out of Cape Dorset before this time.

          In this intricate, sparsely rendered drawing, a woman’s disembodied head, punctuated by two red eyes, emanates from a rock base. Multiple gigantic limbs extending from the back of the woman’s head can also be seen as part of the rocky landscape or as a series of winding bridges. Hands and feet dangle from some of the outstretched limbs, while others appear to be more like tree trunks. Weights hang from fulcrums that pierce the limbs. At once whimsical and grotesque, this enigmatic drawing is a clear precursor to her later highly imaginative work.

Shuvinai Ashoona, Community, 1993–94, Fineliner pen on paper, 50.5 x 66 cm, McMichael Canadian Art Collection, Kleinburg.

          In examining the early work of artists, it is not uncommon to see multiple styles and experimentation. While produced with the same scratchy ink and delicate hand typical of Shuvinai’s first attempts at drawing, Discombobulated Woman represents a departure from her earliest works, dated to 1993, which used her community, the environment with which she is most familiar. Community, 1993–94, an early, monochromatic depiction of Cape Dorset, shows the artist’s use of a bird’s-eye-view perspective, with the bay in the centre of the composition, three fishing boats anchored, and summer tents and prefab buildings sparingly placed on the land around the bay. Although it is by no means a comprehensive rendering of the town, the work includes details such as a flagpole and laundry drying on a line.

          While its palette is subdued, Discombobulated Woman reveals the artist introducing accents of colour, a personal iconography, and a more intentional and experimental drawing style, one that echoes through later drawings. It is best not to read Discombobulated Woman’s title too literally, as the work was likely not titled by the artist. Most Cape Dorset works are titled in the South1  (for example, by Dorset Fine Arts), although this is beginning to change at Kinngait Studios, as artists now occasionally name their own pieces.