Kananginak Pootoogook, UMIAK AND KAYAKS, 2001, coloured pencil, pastel, ink, 20 x 26 in.

Exhibition opened June 3, 2004

Cape Dorset is a centre of artistic excellence, internationally renowned for finely finished sculpture and confident graphics. It is not the sheer quantity of art produced in Dorset, but the quality which is legendary. Hold your breath while handling a fragile loon by Sheokjuk Oqutaq or a spirit composition by Tukiki Manomie. Admire the Audubon-like realism of Kananginak Pootoogook’s animals resulting from a lifetime spent observing nature as an Arctic hunter to imagine the patience of Shuvinai Ashoona as she conjures a rock landscape out of hundreds of precise marks on paper.

There are many ways to quantify what makes such art ‘fine’. Some of the words in this exhibition are highly naturalistic, depicting subjects carefully rendered to appear true to life. Others are conceptually realistic but naively executed by self-trained artists, echoing folk art characteristics. For the Inuit, ‘finely made’ does not necessarily mean ‘pretty’, and an artwork can be ‘true to life’ even if it refers to a supernatural event as long as the essence of the thing is finely expressed. Compare two portrayals of a spirited bird as envisioned by Napachie Sharky and his brother Toonoo. The siblings are equally intrigued by the sculptural potential of feathers on outstretched wings, and each artist imbues his creation with drama and personality, yet one brother remains within the boundaries of naturalistic form while the other taps the spirit world for inspiration.

Some finely made artworks impress for technical reasons of scale or delicacy of intercarving, while others are superb on aesthetic grounds as virtuoso declarations of the pure joy of form. Three brothers with visually distinctive styles are Mathew Saviadjuk, Pootoogook Jaw and Kingwiatsiak Jaw, yet all consistently amaze for their compositional complexity and fine finishing detail.

In Cape Dorset artistic excellence courses through family veins but also appears spontaneously when artists emerge with fresh visions captured on paper or sculpted in three dimensions. We are pleased to include in this exhibition rare acrylic paintings by Mannumi Shaqu, exquisite in execution and unique in vision among the art of their time. Also featured are early and recent works by meticulous senior sculptors and graphic artists like Kenojuak Ashevak, Abraham Etungat, Paulassie Pootoogook, Pitaloosie Saila, Kiakshuk, Napatchie Pootoogook and Oqutaq Mikkigak, as well as a new generation of technically brilliant sculptors including Isaci Etidloie and Pudlalik Shaa, and inspired creators of works on paper such as Kavavaow Manomee and Annie Pootoogook.

Here are great artists creating work that inspires awe. The finish is exquisite. The line is confident. The detail is dazzling. These are the ‘fine works’, in Inuktitut ‘sanaasimasiatok’.