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"Power of Thought:The Prints of Jessie Oonark"
2002-01-11 until 2002-02-24
University of Richmond Museums, Marsh Gallery
USA United States of America
Power of Thought: The Prints of Jessie Oonark is the first one-person
presentation of prints by the Inuit artist Jessie Oonark (1906-1985). The
prints are based on her vibrant drawings and textile designs that featured
visual references to her life and culture in the Arctic. Oonark worked with
printmakers in Baker Lake, Nanavut, Canada, from 1970 to 1985 to
produce the prints included in this exhibition. Organized by the Marsh Art
Gallery, University of Richmond Museums, the exhibition is guest curated
by Canadian art historian Marie Bouchard, who co-curated with Jean
Blodgett the 1986 retrospective of Oonark’s work at the Winnipeg Art
Gallery. All the prints in the exhibition are lent courtesy of Judith Varney
Burch, Arctic Inuit Art, Richmond, Virginia.
Born in the Back River region of the Canadian Central Arctic, Oonark led a traditional semi-nomadic existence until the late 1950s
when the depletion of caribou (a major food source) forced her and her peers to move permanently to the government-sponsored
settlement of Baker Lake, Nunavut. In this new environment, she began her artistic career, earning many honors, participating in
national and international exhibitions, and, most importantly, providing for her family.
Oonark submitted her drawings and textile artworks to the Sanavik Co-operative, a printmaking initiative established in Baker Lake
in the early 1960s. The strong central compositions that characterize her textiles and drawings become bold and arresting when
isolated on full sheet of the page. The aesthetic decisions concerning the use of space, the economy of line, and a heightened
color palette all serve to crystallize her vision in these images.
The print Power of Thought (1977) alludes to this inner vision of the artist. For her, the invisible sphere of thoughts and ideas was
most clearly expressed through color, shape, line, and visual symbol. This process of visual thinking allowed Oonark to
intellectualize and explore such metaphysical issues as being, identity, time and space – issues that concerned her as an Inuk, a
woman, and an artist living in a time of tremendous social and cultural upheaval.