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Shuvinai Ashoona Life & Work by Nancy Campbell
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Family in Tent 2003

Family in Tent

Shuvinai Ashoona, Family in Tent, 2003
Fineliner pen on paper, 51 x 66.5 cm
Winnipeg Art Gallery


Depicting what is dear to her, Shuvinai Ashoona has rendered many drawings of summer camp tents. Family in Tent is an exceptional, early-career example, with a fascinating interior scene of life in camp. Her tent drawings could be as simple as aerial perspectives showing the circular outlines of tents on the tundra or images of sealskin domes in a rocky landscape. Family in Tent presents an inside view, with the mother cooking, the father sipping tea, and the children sleeping. Shuvinai spent almost a decade living in an outpost camp with her family in the 1980s, so camp life is well familiar to her.

          In Cape Dorset it is still common for families to spend the short summer months in a tent, enjoying the mild weather and fresh breeze off the bay, often pitching camp not far from the family home. Family in Tent shows an array of supplies necessary for life on the land. Prominent are a box of Red Rose tea, sugar, a quiliq (oil lamp) used for cooking and light, as well as dishes and boxes. The family is in the midst of finishing a meal of “country food”—food they have hunted or foraged—including a skinned seal and bags of clams. On the mother’s back there is a baby in the hood of her amauti (woman’s parka), and two children lie in bed. The floor of the tent is very rocky, diligently drawn by the artist in great detail. With the exception of the Red Rose box, the scene could be set at any time, reflecting a traditional life camping on the tundra.

Shuvinai Ashoona, Arctic Evening, 2003, lithograph, 57 x 76.5 cm, Dorset Fine Arts, Toronto, and various collections.

          The print Arctic Evening was also produced in 2003 and has many of the features of Family in Tent. Indeed, Family in Tent could very well have been the inspiration for this print release. The composition has many similarities. We see the same characters inhabiting the scene. The man is sipping tea while the woman, with a baby on her back, is tending to the quiliq. Country food of clams and fish are in the foreground. Two children sleep soundly, with an empty can of Crush at the head of the bed. Supplies are lined up in the background: Red Rose tea, a carton of cigarettes, flour, sugar, salt, baking powder, Pilot biscuits, and toilet paper. In contrast to the drawing, the print is rich in colour: warm yellow, black, grey-blue, and orange predominate. The colour applied by the printer alters the image significantly, giving it a warm hue, perhaps from the light of the setting sun or the dim light from the quiliq.

          Shuvinai has been a regular contributor to the Cape Dorset Annual Print Collection since 1997, though sales of her prints are not as robust as those of some of the other studio artists. Perhaps this is because her drawings don’t easily translate graphically to the medium of printmaking, or maybe her subject matter is too complex and detailed. It remains that the prints with more contemporary content do not sell as well as traditional imagery, which also may be a stumbling block for her work. Arctic Evening, however, is a successful print and lovely companion piece for the print drawing Family in Tent.