October 22, 2018

Winnipeg
3° C, Partly cloudy

Full Forecast

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

Opinion

'I carve about my life'

A career-spanning survey tells a groundbreaking female sculptor's 'story in stone'

Oviloo Tunnillie's Thought Creates Meaning</p>

Oviloo Tunnillie's Thought Creates Meaning

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2016 (774 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Some people write about their lives,” Oviloo Tunnillie remarked in 1997, “but I carve about my life. That is the way I want to be known.”

At the Winnipeg Art Gallery, immersed in her life’s work, Oviloo’s simple statement of purpose seems both apt and too modest, at once encompassing and playing down her work’s commanding scope and insight. In 40 years spent carving stone, she shaped rough Baffin Island serpentine into concise, concrete reflections of her own experiences, convictions, aspirations and imaginings — defying painful circumstances and others’ expectations in the process.

The first sculpture she sold is one of the first we encounter in Oviloo Tunnillie: A Woman’s Story in Stone, which closes this weekend. Made in 1966 with the same simple hand-axes and chisels her father, Toonoo, used, it shows an abstract but entirely relatable, stoical-looking mother and her crabby child.

That it exists at all is as remarkable as its clean lines and expressive features. Born in 1949 in Kangia, a camp on Baffin Island, Oviloo took up carving at a time when this was men’s domain — though, like many in her creative family did, women might become respected graphic artists. Undaunted, she began carving full-time in 1972, supporting her family while holding true to her unique perspective and wide-ranging interests.

Get the full story.
No credit card required. Cancel anytime.

Join free for 60 days

After that, pay as little as $0.99 per month for the best local news coverage in Manitoba.

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Join free for 60 days

 

Already a subscriber?

Log in

Subscribers Log in below to continue reading,
not a subscriber? Create an account to start a 60 day free trial.

Log in Create your account

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

Your free trial has come to an end.

We hope you have enjoyed your trial! To continue reading, we recommend our Read Now Pay Later membership. Simply add a form of payment and pay only 27¢ per article.

For unlimited access to the best local, national, and international news and much more, try an All Access Digital subscription:

Thank you for supporting the journalism that our community needs!

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Mon to Sat Delivery

Pay

$34.36

per month

  • Includes all benefits of All Access Digital
  • 6-day delivery of our award-winning newspaper
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

We hope you have enjoyed your free trial!

To continue reading, select a plan below:

Read Now Pay Later

Pay

27¢

per article

  • Commitment-free
  • Cancel anytime
  • Only pay for what you read
  • Refunds available
Continue

All Access Digital

Introductory pricing*

99¢

per month

  • Unlimited online reading and commenting
  • Daily newspaper replica e-Edition
  • News Break - our award-winning iOS app
  • Exclusive perks & discounts
Continue

*Introductory pricing schedule for 12 month: $0.99/month plus tax for first 3 months, $5.99/month for months 4 - 6, $10.99/month for months 7 - 9, $13.99/month for months 10 - 12. Standard All Access Digital rate of $16.99/month begins after first year.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2016 (774 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

‘Some people write about their lives," Oviloo Tunnillie remarked in 1997, "but I carve about my life. That is the way I want to be known."

At the Winnipeg Art Gallery, immersed in her life’s work, Oviloo’s simple statement of purpose seems both apt and too modest, at once encompassing and playing down her work’s commanding scope and insight. In 40 years spent carving stone, she shaped rough Baffin Island serpentine into concise, concrete reflections of her own experiences, convictions, aspirations and imaginings — defying painful circumstances and others’ expectations in the process.

Oviloo Tunnillie's Mother and Child</p>

Oviloo Tunnillie's Mother and Child

The first sculpture she sold is one of the first we encounter in Oviloo Tunnillie: A Woman’s Story in Stone, which closes this weekend. Made in 1966 with the same simple hand-axes and chisels her father, Toonoo, used, it shows an abstract but entirely relatable, stoical-looking mother and her crabby child.

That it exists at all is as remarkable as its clean lines and expressive features. Born in 1949 in Kangia, a camp on Baffin Island, Oviloo took up carving at a time when this was men’s domain — though, like many in her creative family did, women might become respected graphic artists. Undaunted, she began carving full-time in 1972, supporting her family while holding true to her unique perspective and wide-ranging interests.

Southern buyers might have preferred natural or ethnographic scenes — parka-clad hunters, shamanic figures and polar bears — but from the beginning, Oviloo’s subjects were more personal, contemporary and trenchant. Sports stars, ballet dancers, a woman masturbating, another on the toilet, mermaids, a princess, and a priest all feature in her diverse cast of characters.

Works from the ‘90s onward revisit her earliest memories, torn from family for years a time receiving treatment for tuberculosis in different Manitoba hospitals. Her hair bobbed short and fringed, dressed in hospital gowns, pyjamas and simple smocks, we find Oviloo walking the halls alone, teddy bear in tow, crying on a nurse’s lap, collapsed over a nightstand in tears or prayer, bolt upright in a hospital cot, screaming. The sculptures’ refined forms and features give them an iconic, timeless quality that contrasts sharply with their heart-wrenching specifics.

There are happier scenes of a reunited family, and the show’s most exuberant piece sees Oviloo on a sled, wind in her hair, face lit up with a sly smile and intense forward gaze. Others give rewarding insight into the everyday work of Cape Dorset artists. Sculpted figures carry drawings to the co-op to sell, lug heavy stones for stonecut printing, and contemplate uncarved blocks of serpentine, with Oviloo inventively contrasting two- and three-dimensional rendering and the textures of raw and polished stone.

The works turn look away from the harder realities of Northern life. One powerful sculpture shows an incapacitated woman slumped over a man’s shoulders, bottle still in hand. Another literally points a finger at qallunaat, white people, for introducing alcohol to Inuit communities. A man throws his body over a pack of dogs to protect them from being shot by southern agents. Nude (Female Exploitation) painfully revisits memories of childhood abuse by medical personnel.

The show comes down Sunday, Sept. 11, coinciding with the recent announcement of new federal funding for the WAG’s planned Inuit Art Centre, and it should help pique excitement for the project. It’s certainly not to be missed.

Rooted in histories of colonial violence and forced relocation and in complex exchanges between traditional culture and market forces, Inuit art presents unique challenges for institutions. In A Woman’s Story in Stone, the works hold their own as incisive, accomplished sculpture, but the WAG and curator Darlene Coward Wright ensure that Oviloo Tunnillie’s authentic voice is heard at every turn.

We’re better for it. The artist died in 2014, but she still has quite the story to tell.

 

Steven Leyden Cochrane is a Winnipeg-based artist, writer and educator.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us

You can comment on most stories on The Winnipeg Free Press website. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press print or digital subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to The Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective January 2015.

Advertisement

Advertise With Us