New Cape Dorset art centre a space to learn, create
“Art income is very important in Cape Dorset”
Everything smells new at the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop in Cape Dorset.
The centre, which opened in September 2018, serves as a community centre, an exhibition space for Inuit art, and an art studio.
A gallery space is filled with carvings, drawings and prints. The Enchanted Owl print, from Kenojuak Ashevak, the famous Cape Dorset artist the centre is named after, hangs in the centre of the room.
Joemee Takpaungai, Ashevak’s nephew, is the centre’s assistant studio manager. He has lived in Cape Dorset his whole life and worked at the West Baffin Eskimo Co-op in the 1980s.
“I enjoy working. I love art and I love people who make art,” he says.
Takpaungai seems to always smile when he speaks, and walks at a brisk pace around the gallery to greet its visitors and speak with the artists coming in and out. His voice is so strong it carries from across the gallery.
Takpaungai tried his hand at carving many years ago, but he says he did not have the patience to continue.
“It was kind of hard on me. I got paid for small pieces and I divided how many hours it took and I decided I’m not going to make a living out of that.”
“And this job is much cleaner too,” he laughs.
The centre covers over 10,000 square feet and includes a 400 square-foot space for elders.
The centre also hosts artist residencies for artists from other communities.
“I love working with people from outside the community who are artists,” Takpaungai says.
Wearing a Pink Floyd shirt, Takpaungai leads a group of people visiting the community as part of a One Ocean expedition down a long hallway to the gallery’s studio space.
Specialized equipment for printmaking and lithography, including a huge green printmaking press, sits in the middle of the room.
Niveaksie Quvianaqtuliaq, a printmaker, explains this particular press was made in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“It’s the farthest north one of these has ever been shipped,” he says.
Quvianaqtuliaq will travel to Albuquerque in the fall to take a course to become a master printmaker, he says.
Takpaungai says he sees more and more Cape Dorset youth interested in printmaking, drawing and carving. Many of them come to the studio, he says.
“I love working with people. Plus I have my mother tongue and all the people who are carvers speak Inuktitut,” he says.
But almost all of Cape Dorset’s master carvers have passed away. Takpaungai says master carvers were those who carved in Cape Dorset during the 1940s and 50s. He hopes youth will fill the gaps created by those losses.
“Most of them are gone. We have hardly any more master carvers, but many who want to be master carvers. The new generation is picking it up and they’re doing well,” he says.
For now, Takpaungai says he will continue to grow the centre and help develop its collection.
“We don’t have a whole lot of employment here. Art income is very important in Cape Dorset. Some people depend on it and it helps their family,” he says.
“I just enjoy working with artists. Sometimes it’s a struggle. Sometimes it’s fun. But it’s well worth it.”