Shuvinai Ashoona

Gui­tar

Inuit Art Quarterly - - CONTENTS - by Brad van der Zan­den

The art­work on each of Ashoona’s in­stru­ments is orig­i­nal and greatly var­ied, rang­ing from graf­fiti-like de­signs and worlds on one, to the vi­brant, al­most rain­bow ef­fect of the draw­ings on another.

A gui­tar player since age six, I have long ad­mired mu­si­cal in­stru­ments, for their in­her­ent beauty, as well as the time-hon­oured tra­di­tion of adorn­ing them with art­work. Some of my favourite gui­tar play­ers, like Jimmy Page and Bill Frisell, per­form on leg­endary art covered in­stru­ments. In work­ing with ac­claimed artists from Kin­ngait (Cape Dorset), NU, on the “Gui­tar Pro­ject,” I have had the priv­i­lege of merg­ing my two pas­sions: vis­ual art and mu­sic.

When I be­gan work­ing at Fe­he­ley

Fine Arts in 2006, I was in­tro­duced to the in­cred­i­ble out­pour­ing of creative con­tem­po­rary draw­ing that was de­vel­op­ing in the North, even trav­el­ling to Kin­ngait in 2014. Through­out my time with the gallery, I es­tab­lished many won­der­ful and last­ing friend­ships with ar tists, in­clud­ing Tim Pit­si­u­lak (1967–2016), Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA, Ju­tai Toonoo (1959–2015) and Qavavau Man­u­mie, all of whom have art­works on at least one gui­tar. To­gether, with the help and sup­port of Stu­dio Man­ager Wil­liam Ritchie, the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op­er­a­tive and Dorset Fine Arts, we em­barked on a col­lab­o­ra­tive pro­ject to cre­ate a lim­ited se­ries of high-qual­ity mu­si­cal in­stru­ments adorned with images by these ex­cep­tional artists.

The first step in­volved as­sem­bling blank, white gui­tar bod­ies to send to the North. The artists were en­cour­aged to draw at lib­erty on each piece as they saw fit. The gui­tar body pre­sented a new sur­face that was com­pletely novel to the artists in the stu­dio. The art­work was then re­turned to me in Toronto, ON, where I be­gan the process of turn­ing them into fin­ished mu­si­cal in­stru­ments. It takes sev­eral months to com­plete the en­tire process for each in­stru­ment, but the end re­sults have been well worth the wait.

Kevin Hearn of Bare­naked Ladies was cru­cial in help­ing get the pro­ject off the ground by en­cour­ag­ing the cre­ation of the very first in­stru­ments. He has since toured and played ex­ten­sively with his unique gui­tars by Shuvinai Ashoona. While in Kin­ngait, Hearn, Toonoo and I formed a band called The Wal­rus Lips. Although we had only one prac­tice, it was epic! The art­work on each of Ashoona’s in­stru­ments is orig­i­nal and greatly var­ied, rang­ing from graf­fiti-like de­signs and worlds on one, to the vi­brant, al­most rain­bow ef­fect of the draw­ings on another. With its waves of res­onat­ing colour, the art­work is less nar­ra­tive than her typ­i­cal draw­ings and more of a pure de­sign. The syl­labic texts trans­late in English as “Gui­tar,” “They are my nice gui­tars,” “It would be good to play the gui­tar to­gether” and so on. Ashoona has pro­duced art­work for eight in­stru­ments, the most by any one artist. Each is unique and beau­ti­ful. With the help of my band, we video recorded a few short pieces of mu­sic in or­der to show Ashoona her work in ac­tion. She re­quested two par­tic­u­lar songs: “Hanky Panky” by Tommy James and the Shon­dells and “Mag­gie May” by Rod Ste­wart. To date we have pro­duced some nine­teen in­stru­ments—in­clud­ing four­teen elec­tric gui­tars, two bass gui­tars and three ukule­les. All have been shown at art fairs and ex­hi­bi­tions from Iqaluit, NU, to Toronto and are now held in pri­vate and cor­po­rate col­lec­tions. This gui­tar, made in 2013, was ac­quired for the BMO Cor­po­rate Art Col­lec­tion in 2015 and is in­stalled at their head of­fice. I am for­tu­nate in my cur­rent role as Se­nior As­so­ci­ate Cu­ra­tor of BMO Fi­nan­cial Group’s Cor­po­rate Art Col­lec­tion to be able to visit this par­tic­u­lar gui­tar on a daily ba­sis. It is beau­ti­fully dis­played in our main gallery area as part of the per­ma­nent col­lec­tion. My re­spect, grat­i­tude and ad­mi­ra­tion goes out to these artists and the stu­dio in Kin­ngait.

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