Portrait of Ashoona c. 1970

Portrait of Ashoona c. 1970

Pitseolak Ashoona, Portrait of Ashoona, c. 1970

Coloured felt-tip pen on paper

27.6 x 20.5 cm
National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa

Art Canada Institute, J. Dewey Soper, Portrait of My Guide, Baffin Island, 1976
J. Dewey Soper, Portrait of My Guide, Baffin Island, 1976, watercolour on paper, Arctic Institute of North America, University of Calgary. Soper added Ashoona’s characteristic moustache, absent from the photograph but featured prominently in Pitseolak’s drawing of her husband.
Art Canada Institute, Portrait of Ashoona taken when he was a guide for J. Dewey Soper, 1929
Portrait of Ashoona taken when he was a guide for J. Dewey Soper, 1929. Photograph by J. Dewey Soper. Soper’s 1976 watercolour of Ashoona is based on this photograph.

Pitseolak’s exceptional portrait of her husband, Ashoona, counters the misconception widely held in the 1950s and 1960s that Inuit artists did not create images of themselves or other individuals. Although no syllabics have been added to the drawing that identify the subject, the distinctive moustache and beard suggest it is a specific person. Pitseolak’s son Namoonie later confirmed to the writer Dorothy Harley Eber that his mother had intended this as a portrait of Ashoona.


A photograph of Ashoona by J. Dewey Soper taken in the 1920s allows for a comparison with the figure in Pitseolak’s drawing. Although the photograph depicts Ashoona as a younger, beardless man, Pitseolak’s figure has similarities in the eyes and brow. Beyond the physical representation, Pitseolak has also captured Ashoona’s character—his playful gesture of touching his tongue to his nose. In this humorous detail the portrait tells more about Ashoona than the photographic likeness does.


As much as drawn portraits capture the likeness of the sitter, they also reveal something about the artist. Pitseolak’s portrait of Ashoona communicates her feelings toward her husband, who died in the early to mid-1940s, long before she became an artist. In her portraits, as in her camp scenes and landscapes, Pitseolak found a way to re-experience the past and, in particular, a way to remember loved ones.




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