Oviloo Tunnillie (RCA)

sedna Inuit Art Sculpture in Serpentine

Born: December 20, 1949    Female

Child of two artist, Sheojuk and Toonoo Tunnillie, Oviloo Tunnillie was born at Kangia, Baffin Island. She grew up traditionally on the land but, like many Inuit of that era, was hospitalized in the south for tuberculosis. In 1965, when Oviloo was around 14 years old, she took an early interest in working in stone and sold her first sculpture. She credited her father with teaching her how to carve, by letting her watch him: “I remember seeing the rocks, different shapes of rocks that I admired. At that time I didn’t know I could carve, but by watching my father, Toonoo, I learned. I loved my father’s carvings. From there I began to learn to carve, always noticing the beauty and shapes of the rock”. She really began to carve when she had children, to earn money to buy milk for them. Oviloo established her life as a sculptor; Carvers were typically men, whereas women artists created drawings, prints, and textiles. Defying convention, she forged an iconic career as a stone carver.

Oviloo’s work is conceptual and often reflects her memories of the TB wards and the south. It is also intensely personal and deals with issues that many other might be reductant to portray, particularly those that affect women. Oviloo also was one off the few Inuit artists to choose the nude as a subject. Mush of her work features a woman (who is really Oviloo herself, although she tries to disguise her).

The work that first drew so much attention to her and helped propel her to stardom was the sculpture of a woman wearing heal and a veil in the exhibition “Women of the North: An Exhibition of Art by Inuit Women of the Canadian Arctic” in 1992. This exhibition also helped revive the static profile of Inuit art and made it highly sought after once more.

Oviloo then returned to Cape Dorset after living and working in the south for several years. Soon after her return, she discovered that she had ovarian cancer and was forced to stop carving while undergoing treatment. For the last two years of her life in Cape Dorset, Oviloo was unable to work, and succumbed to cancer on June 12, 2014.

After thirty years of exhibiting in Canada and internationally, she is regarded as the most accomplished female carver of her generation. She was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy in 2003. Her work can be found in several collections such as the Canadian  Museum of Civilization, the National Gallery of Canada, the Hermitage Museum, the Canada Council Art Bank and much more.


By this artist