Kavavaow Mannomee (Inuit, Cape Dorset, Canada, b. 1958)
Wild World, 2008
26.25 x 20.15 inches
Reproduced with the permissions of Dorset Fine Arts
“It’s very different down here than it is up North [in reference to a southern Canadian city]”
Kavavaow Mannomee spent his early life in Brandon, Manitoba, where his mother was hospitalized for tuberculosis. From a young age, Mannomee navigated cultural intersectionality, which is reflected in his manipulation and indigenous contextualization of Western iconography in this piece. He began his artistic career as a printmaker, meticulously cutting in stone the works of other artists. Mannomee started selling his own drawings in the mid-1990s. In his oeuvre, Mannomee is known to play with scale and surrealism; such experimentation has earned him a reputation for creating whimsical work, but work that also deals with a wide variety of social and political influences. Such tropes point to Mannomee’s place among a younger generation of Inuit artists who are undermining stereotypes through staunchly contemporary (and oftentimes political) works.
Mannomee’s lithograph, Wild World, emphasizes the ever-changing nature of the world and celebrates this mutability through the print’s expressive play with shape, color, and iconography. The composition pushes beyond its frame: the elements extend outside of the boundaries of the page and suggest that they continue indefinitely into the viewer’s space. These elements include floating humans, traditional hunting tools, formless shapes, and stick figures. The viewer may also make out thin lines, which emerge as colorless birds. The form of a bird is discernible yet abstracted, unsettling any Western expectations of what Inuit iconographic representation is supposed to look like.
Everything appears to spiral inwards towards the center of the composition in a chaotic way. The eye at the center is set in a rectangular frame within a frame. This provides a close-up view of the eye with a cross that replaces its pupil. This might suggest that the eye belongs to a God figure that sees and creates the world around it. The print is deliberately ambiguous in its reading, which underscores Mannomee’s desire to unsettle preconceptions that Inuit art has merely succumbed to historical conventions or missionizing efforts.
The print is a testament to the Inuit’s ability to syncretize their traditional belief systems with the indoctrination that Christian missionaries brought. Additionally, the artwork serves as a testament to the still-thriving Inuit communities, sometime mistakenly thought to be isolated from the rest of the world. Today, the workshop in Cape Dorset produces work that is commissioned and collected by galleries, museums, and individual collectors worldwide. In addition to providing a means of expression, the act of art making employs a large percentage of the population, economically empowering these artists.
Wild World epitomizes the work of a younger generation of Cape Dorset artists in that it incorporates Inuit traditions that seamlessly embrace contemporary experience. Mannomee was included in a folio entitled Nine Works by Seven Artists, affirming his placement among a radical group of printmakers. The collection of prints, dedicated to showcasing more experimental works on paper, demonstrates how this next generation (those born during and after the 1960s) confronts stereotypes that Inuit artists are limited to conventional motifs. The print reflects the dynamic dialogue that exists between Mannomee’s work and the art world at large.
Kristina Arike ’14, Claire Fey ’15 & Isaac Lindy ’14