For GTA21, the artists collaborated on one of the largest works each has produced to date. Uummatima tillirninga, I can feel my heart beat (2021) is 11 feet high by 16 feet wide and comprises hundreds of smaller block prints—Ashoona working in linocut (typically he works in stonecut, a process unique to Kinngait), and Hatanaka working in linocut and woodcut (within the Japanese tradition). Developed in Kinngait, the hand-printed work is a loose “map/nunangua” with a point on Tujjaat Island where Ashoona’s grandmother, artist Pitseolak Ashoona was born. The map traces the Arctic region, passing Netsilik Lake to recollect Ashoona’s namesake’s travels, and the Northwest Passage to Yokohama, Japan, the birthplace of Hatanaka’s grandmother. Visually, the work cites ancient Japanese maps, which were intended to be read north to south, and incorporated images, like notable figures and well-known sites. The entire composition moves between prints of snow, images of the artists’ hands and portraits of their respective grandmothers, an homage to their cultures and personal lineages. Ashoona notes that “Art, and printmaking in particular, has been a way for our people to carry on stories, knowledge and experiences.” The work, he adds, “honours Inuit ingenuity.''
While their imagery directly connects Japanese and Inuit Nunangat artistic legacies, it can also be interpreted as a reflection on climate change, our interconnectedness, and the ways in which print-making and paper expressions reflect an environmentally-sustainable way of producing art and being in the world. As Hatanaka states, “what we do halfway across the globe impacts others on the other side.” Printmaking on washi, a Japanese paper made with local natural fibres, began in the Arctic in 1959, after artist James Houston introduced the technique to the region, having studied in Japan. Since then, Kinngait artists have refined and developed the practice on their own terms, producing prints using stone cutting techniques, lithography, and engraving.
As part of their wider collective, Kinngarni Katujjiqatigiit, Ashoona and Hatanaka engage youth in projects that dovetail with land-based experiences like fishing and hunting. On a recent trip, the youth in Kinngait experimented with gyotaku—a Japanese form of printing caught fish. Using non-toxic sumi ink on paper, gyotaku printing helps fishers keep a record of their catches (the method and non-toxic ink mean the fish can still be eaten afterwards). As part of Uummatima tillirninga, I can feel my heart beat, Ashoona and Hatanaka printed with three long-term youth mentees.
Ashoona and Hatanaka identify their work within a history of storytelling and skilful hand work, but of importance to them—illustrated by their collaboration—is an emphasis on empowering youth through the transmission of local, traditional knowledge, a gesture they understand to have an impact on community, climate and our shared future.
Ashoona Ashoona (born 1974 in Iqaluit, Canada; lives in Kinngait, Canada) works as a carver, printmaker, and graphic artist. Ashoona was raised in a family of artists, began stone cutting in 2012, and today makes prints at Kinngait Studios. He was part of the team that built a collaborative artwork for the Inuit Circumpolar Council meeting in 2014.
Alexa Hatanaka engages in time-intensive, historic processes connected to her Japanese heritage that support her thinking around community-building, environment, and persisting and honouring evolving cultural practices such as relief-printmaking, papermaking and kamiko, the practice of sewing garments out of konnyaku starch-strengthened washi (Japanese paper). She collaborates on site-specific and community-engaged projects with youth in Kinngait, Nunavut as part of her collective Kinngarni Katujjiqatigiit/ᑭᙵᕐᓂ ᑲᑐᔾᔨᖃᑎᒌᑦ and formerly as part of Embassy of Imagination. Her individually and collaboratively authored work has been exhibited at the Art Gallery of Ontario, Toronto; the British Museum and Canada House in London; the Toronto Biennial of Art; and the Guanlan International Printmaking Base, Shenzen, China.
WORK IN GTA21:
Uummatima tillirninga, I can feel my heart beat, 2021
Washi paper and sumi ink
Courtesy Patel Brown Gallery, Toronto
Ashoona Ashoona and Alexa Hatanaka are bonded by their printmaking practices. It’s an appreciation that encompasses the tradition’s environmental and pedagogical sensibilities, as well their belief in artmaking as a community building tool, particularly with the youth in Kinngait, Nunavut, where they are both strongly affiliated.