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Published by Communications and Public Affairs (519) 824-4120, Ext. 56982 or 53338

News Release

October 16, 2002

U of G author launches book on Inuit artist

Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality, the first biography of one of Canada's most prominent Inuit artists, is being launched Oct. 27 at 2:30 p.m. at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre in Guelph, Ont. Avaalaaqiaq and the book's author, Judith Nasby, director of the art centre, will be available for interviews Oct. 25.

Throughout her 30-year career, Avaalaaqiaq has created wall hangings, drawings, prints and sculpture that have been featured in several national and international exhibitions and are part of numerous collections. She uses bold shapes in bright contrasting colours against a solid background to symbolically represent her world. Her newest wall hangings are on exhibit at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre until Dec. 22.

Nasby's book is a critical retrospective of Avaalaaqiaq's work. She gives scope to Avaalaaqiaq's life and art based on first-hand interviews. The artist's life, which spans 60 years from her birth in an igloo to her present status as a leader in the Nunavut community of Baker Lake, is captured in through description, maps and photographs. Nasby illustrates how Avaalaaqiaq is able to preserve her heritage and make it accessible to an international audience through her work. "Avaalaaqiaq translates multi-layered stories, transformation scenes and personal memories into powerful images that present her world in a symbolic manner," said Nasby.

Avaalaaqiaq has had a relationship with the University of Guelph since she received an honorary degree from the university in 1999 for her contribution to the development of Inuit art and for her leadership role Baker Lake, Canada's only major inland arctic settlement. In recognition of the honour, the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre commissioned nine of Avaalaaqiaq's wall hangings and drawings for its collection.

Born in the Kazan River area of Nunavut, the artist spent the first 13 years of her life in relative isolation. Both her parents died early in her childhood and she was raised by her grandparents. She learned from her grandmother how to sew caribou clothing and used this skill to create wall hangings after moving to Baker Lake in 1958. The subject matter of Avaalaaqiaq's work deals with Inuit traditions from legends passed along by her grandmother.

Nasby has been a curator and public art gallery director for more than 25 years. She has curated over 100 exhibitions and written 50 publications, including a 300-page catalogue of the University of Guelph collection. Inuit art exhibitions that she has curated have toured Canada, the United States, Iceland, Denmark, India and Austria. She is an adjunct professor in the School of Fine Art and Music and received a YMCA-YWCA Women of Distinction Award for art and culture in 2001.

Irene Avaalaaqiaq: Myth and Reality is published by McGill-Queen's University Press.

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