Shuvinai Ashoona, Composition (Two Men and a Spider), 2007–8
Fineliner pen and coloured pencil on paper, 56 x 76 cm
Composition (Two Men and a Spider) was first exhibited in Noise Ghost: Shuvinai Ashoona and Shary Boyle, a 2009 show at the Justina M. Barnicke Gallery, Hart House, University of Toronto, featuring the work of Toronto artist Shary Boyle (b. 1972) and Shuvinai Ashoona. Noise Ghost intentionally paired two contemporary Canadian artists on a level playing field, rather than distinguishing between Inuit and contemporary art. This approach was a game changer, since it challenged many preconceptions about Inuit art, including the assumption that Inuit imagery is drawn from a not-so-distant past when Inuit were still living on the land.
This particular drawing marks a dramatic shift in Shuvinai’s subject matter—from her northern surroundings to her imaginings. When asked about Composition (Two Men and a Spider), Shuvinai said, “There are these kind of movies, and so I started putting in some of the animals that we got up here, up north, and then that movie we saw did not look the same at all. His arms were on fire and the white-headed man had beaming eyes. Boy, were they ever different. It was fun rethinking them a little bit.”1
At the time of the exhibition, Shary Boyle used her artist fee to purchase Composition (Two Men and a Spider). The synchronicity between the artists’ work was palpable and is reflected in a short piece in Canadian Art magazine in which Shary writes poetically about her interaction with Shuvinai’s work:
The moment I encountered this image I felt an instant connection with it. My response was intense and euphoric, a deep rush of excited bewilderment. The confusion produced by the disfigurement of the characters’ faces made me feel like keening. Simultaneously, I wanted to laugh my head off. What is going on??! Look at the pencil-crayon marks, the vertical scratchiness—and the faded, complementary colours. Look at the three points of black. Then step back and see the overall composition: the figures making a pretzel of their arms, entwining fingers, crossing legs—while the tree, beheaded and with spread-eagled roots, wraps an arm protectively around the strugglers. Now lean in closer. Check out those whiskers!! My god. Any communication between the anemone and the walrus is bound to be a mangled, physical thing. But what really pushes it over the edge for me are the two silent players: the perching tarantula and the stiff green fruit.2