Kenojuak Ashevak/ᕿᓐᓄᐊᔪᐊᖅ ᐋᓯᕙᒃ, Inuktitut artist


This monograph covers highlights from the art of Kenojuak Ashevak (1927-2013). Kenojuak was an Inuit artist, part of one the Canadian First Nations of Nunavut. She is the most acclaimed and beloved native artist of Canada’s Northern Territories, considered to be one of the founders of modern Inuit art. She received many national awards and honours, dating from 1967 up to her death. Her art has continued to receive more recognition since her death.

The book gives an overview of the artist’s eventful life. Kenojuak was born into a nomadic Inuktitut clan in a haumuq (igloo) on South Baffin Island. Her family were hunters. Seal hunting was dangerous work and income low. Her father was murdered in a clan dispute, victim of summary justice. Any tale of Kenojuak’s life must include local hunter and part-time artist Johnniebo Ashevak (1923-1972), whom she married in 1946. His art is less well known than hers, although it is well regarded and in national collections. Kenojuak experienced forcible hospital confinement due to tuberculosis (1952-5) and lost children in infancy due to illness. She married twice after Johnniebo’s death and was mother to 16 children over the years, five adopted; seven did not survive infancy.

She learned traditional crafts from her family. Her skill was noticed and encouraged during her hospital stay. Some of her bags, dolls, boots and tapestries used stencils monochrome motifs.

Like other Inuit artists of the Cape Dorset region, her creativity was harnessed and disseminated by the couple Alma and James Archibald Houston. In the 1930s Houston had sold native crafts to Canadians in the South and the couple’s establishment of the print studio in 1956 proved highly successful, causing a sensation and leading to the introduction of Inuit art to Canadians nationwide. The studio allowed Inuit craftsmen to reach new markets and gain a significant source of income

One of the key artistic mediums of Canadian First Nations artists is the soapstone print. Blocks of local soapstone – soft enough to be cut with a knife – are flattened then a matrix cut in relief. The matrix is inked with a roller then a sheet of paper applied over it, taking the ink. The use of stencils allows variation in inking.


[Image: copyright 2020 Kenojuak Ashevak]

This catalogue for a touring exhibition (2020-2, Saskatoon, Dawson City, Kelowna, Ontario, Winnipeg and Medicine Hat) features Kenojuak’s late art, especially the bird pictures that she was famed for. The well-known late style contrasts with the few examples here of Kenojuak’s work of the 1960s. These pencil drawings lack colour and show less concern for neat shading. They are less visually appealing than the colour works but they have greater rawness and intensity. The freedom apparent compensates for the less polished finish.  As new materials became available she adapted her style to take advantage of colours.

Exhibited art includes drawings (in black and coloured inks), soapstone prints, colour lithographs and an etching with aquatint. Most of the art is late drawings from the 1990s, 2000s and 2010s, alongside colour prints. Double-page spreads compare the original drawing to the subsequent print. Between the two, there are few changes in composition, only minimal changes to conform to the characteristics of the print medium. (Most of the prints were made by printmakers who transcribed drawings as matrices and editioned the prints.) Most typical of Kenojuak’s art in this book is the single animal or groups of few animals set against a blank background. Often the there are no picture borders, with the motif existing free of setting. Kenojuak favoured horizontal axes.


[Image: copyright 2020 Kenojuak Ashevak]

Kenojuak’s art shows animals frontally or in profile using curvilinear outlines, patterned shading and bold decorative fans of appendages, referring to feathers and spines. These extravagant appendages induce a hypnotic effect on the viewers. The animals are mainly birds and fishes, with frequent changes of scale. Owls, loons, swans, ravens, gulls, foxes, hares and chars all feature; Kenojuak rarely depicted whole figures in her mature work. Sometimes the animals are in the process of transformation or engaged in unclear (or unspecified) interactions.

This attractive book (trilingual in English, French and Inuktitut) provides an enjoyable introduction to one of Canada’s most beloved artists.

Leslie Boyd, Silaqi Ashevak, Kenojuak Ashevak: Life and Legacy, Pomegranate, 2020, hardback, 109pp, fully col. illus., English/French/Inuktitut text, $29.95/C$39.95, ISBN 978 0 7649 9818 8


© 2020 Alexander Adams

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AA Interviewed by Fanny Anzai

selective focus photography of gray stainless steel condenser microphone
Photo by Magda Ehlers on

Many thanks to Fanny Anzai for this two-part interview on her YouTube channel. In part 1 we discuss art and creativity (, in part 2 we cover identity politics, art criticism and censorship ( 

Rosa Bonheur

Catherine Hewitt’s Art is a Tyrant is a lively biography of groundbreaking French painter Rosa Bonheur (1822-1899). Bonheur was the daughter of minor aristocrats Raymond, a portrait painter, and Sophie, a piano teacher. In an attempt to improve their circumstances, Raymond and Sophie moved to Paris when Bonheur was seven years old. It was in Paris that Raymond became a convert to Saint-Simonianism, a socio-political movement of religious character, that advocated communal living, sex equality and spirituality to counteract the perceived alienation generated by industrialisation. Raymond’s attachment to proto-socialist ideas made a lasting impact on the young Bonheur.

“Despite Raymond’s doubts about the financial security of an artist’s life, he supported Bonheur’s decision to pursue painting, providing her with some training and encouraging her to copy paintings at the Louvre. Bonheur was always especially attached to animals, so it was little surprise that they became her principal muse….”


Read the full review on Spiked website here:

How Not to Drink and Not to Rule an Empire

Princeton University Press’s series of edited classics brings two books dealing with comportment and self-control. Obsopoeus on drinking and Suetonius on the flaws of emperors are not intended as a pair but they overlap slightly. The personality flaws of emperors are present in persons of lesser status and both power and alcohol consumption encourage exposure of people’s darker sides.

Vincentius Obsopoeus (c. 1498-1539) was German humanist, who lived in Ansbach during the Reformation. He was a poet and translator, translating to and from Latin and German. De Arte Bibendi was first published in 1536. The following year a second edition was published, from which this volume is drawn. Obsopoeus was a lover of wine and his text is not admonitory, although he does offer advice about moderation and appropriate conduct. His text was criticised on moral grounds and put on the Index Librorum Prohibitorum.

Obsopoeus states “If you drink in an uneducated manner, wine will hurt you. If you’re educated about your drinking, though, wine is enjoyable and good.” He recommends drinking at home with one’s wife, where one will not be bothered and nobody will overhear one’s quips and slips. When a drinker goes out, he should choose his companions wisely. How often have we heard “Diversity is our strength”? For Obsopoeus, the opposite is true. “Harmony is rare among unequals; turmoil frequently arises from combining diversity and friendship. A sailor should drink with sailors; a soldier with soldiers, […] a drunkard with a drunkard. […] Everyone should seek out a peer that is, a person who suits them and their character – and make that person their drinking buddy.” Peers who are modest, mild-mannered, educated and dignified will not pressure you to drink and will provide necessary restraint. Beware of braggarts, belligerents, gossips, blasphemers and ex-monks.

Obsopoeus advises drinkers to be polite, relaxed, witty and deferential. Many comments seem modern, not something we would expect to read from a Reformation scholar. Avoid sex jokes and obscenity; do not gamble, spit or belch. He warns against becoming too drunk and drinking too often, though he does not give specifics. How are we to take the claim “I don’t approve of getting drunk in any circumstances”? Does he mean indiscriminate drinking or drinking to excess? Obsopoeus frames his discourse in terms of the ancient authors, Bacchus and the Muses and barely mentions Christianity, save admitting that drinking with Catholics is permissible.

On the subject of the degradation caused by alcohol, Obsopoeus takes up the simile of drunken vices as wild animals. Drunkenness is personified as a hideous hag, a terrible presentiment of the future of illness and disfigurement awaiting the drunkard.  Obsopoeus does not shy away from the suffering and indignity that alcohol can wreak upon the incautious or weak. It is in describing the drunk’s antics that Obsopoeus is at his most humorous. His depiction of binge drinking strikes one as bitingly accurate. Obsopoeus includes advice on drinking games, should the drinker find himself in such circumstances.

Michael Fontaine’s translation is freest so far in the series and is intended to be accessible. Readers will have their own responses to his decision to make iuvenes as “college kids”, “frat boys” and “kids” and his preference for “drunk” over “alcoholic”. The subject lends itself to such an informal approach. It was the correct decision to translate the original verse into prose.

* * *

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus (c. 69-after 122 AD) wrote biographies of twelve consecutive emperors, starting with Julius Caesar. Suetonius’s accounts of the virtues and flaws of emperors are not wholly accurate. Romans tended to embroider tales of imperial excess as salutary examples of vice, so the stories Suetonius passed on are sometimes exaggerated or invented.

How to be a Bad Emperor includes a selection from Suetonius’s biographies made by Josiah Osgood and translated by him. The excerpts are of the vices of four emperors: Julius Cesar (100-66 BC), Tiberius (42 BC-37 AD), Caligula (12-41 AD) and Nero (37-64 AD). The salutary flaws Suetonius lists include mania for public honours (Julius Caesar, Caligula, Nero), hubris (Julius Caesar), ignoring omens (Julius Caesar), vanity (Julius Caesar, Caligula, Nero), neglect of duty (Tiberius, Caligula, Nero), sexual perversion (Tiberius, Caligula), sadism (Tiberius, Caligula), dipsomania (Tiberius), impulsivity (Caligula), paranoia (Caligula, Nero) and cowardice (Nero).

Julius Caesar’s failings were of pride, vanity and neglect rather than malice – positively minor flaws considering the vices of his successors. In the biography of Tiberius, Suetonius describes the tyranny of untrammelled authority, which we find in every era, our own included. “Not a day passed without people getting punished, not even days when public business was banned; some were put to death on New Year’s Day. Many were accused and condemned along with their children – and even by their children. It was forbidden for the relatives of those sentenced to death to mourn them. Special rewards were decreed to accusers, sometimes even to witnesses. Credence always was given to informers.”

Tiberius’s personal sadism gave licence to the sadism and vengeance of those in public positions. “Since by tradition it was forbidden for virgins to be strangled, young girls were first violated by the executioner, then strangled.” We have seen many regimes shaped in the image of their leader, where the depravity of a ruler inculcates a culture of excess at all levels of society. When, learning of a case of a visitor being tortured due to mistaken identity, Tiberius ordered him put to death for fear of him revealing his ordeal.

Caligula’s extremity is famed and well deserved. He had subjects killed in the most barbarous ways for the most minor of (actual or imagined) indirect slights, which included uttering the word “goat” in his presence. “He forced fathers to be present at the execution of their sons.” He would watch executions as entertainment whilst dining. He committed incest with his sisters. He developed a contempt and cruelty for his people as whole, wishing upon them disaster that he could master. In bouts of vengeful insecurity, he had statues of famous men destroyed. He suffered from epilepsy, which may have made him jealous of the non-afflicted. However, imperfection evinced in him no pity for the weakest and lowliest of his subjects. He was plagued with insomnia, which likely exacerbated his short temper.

Like Caligula before him, Nero considered himself a renaissance man: singer, actor, orator and sportsman. He competed in the Olympic Games, winning the laurels in chariot racing. He toured Greece to perform in front of the ancient world’s most knowledgeable audience. He locked the doors of the theatre when he performed in a move reminiscent of dictators of recent decades, who expected their audiences to applaud for minutes on end. Greed, incompetence and a lackadaisical attitude towards administration (rather than cruelty) undid Nero’s emperorship.


Both volumes include the Latin original facing the English translation. Notes and bibliography provide leads for academics and lay readers. The cloth spines and dust-jacket designs maintain the quality and stylistic unity of the series, previously covered by this reviewer.


Vincent Obsopoeus, Michael Fontaine (ed., trans, intro), How to Drink, Princeton University Press, 2020, cloth spine hardback, parallel Latin/English text, 192pp, $16.95/£13.99, ISBN 978 0 6911 92147

Suetonius, Josiah Osgood (ed., trans, intro), How to be a Bad Emperor, Princeton University Press, 2020, cloth spine hardback, parallel Latin/English text, 312pp,  $16.95/£13.99, ISBN 978 0 6911 93991

© Alexander Adams 2020

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