Celebrating Nunavut Day: Axangayuk Shaa (1937-2019)

Today we celebrate the 20th anniversary of Nunavut Day by paying tribute to the life and art of Axangayuk Shaa. As an incredibly prolific Cape Dorset carver, Axangayuk has had a hand in shaping Inuit carving in Nunavut.

Axangayuk was born on March 17th, 1937 and, in many ways, he seemed destined to become a renowned artist. Axangayuk was the only child of artists Paunichea and Munamee Davidee, and the grandson of the carver Kiakshuk. He continued his family’s legacy when he began carving at the age of fifteen. Over many years, Axangayuk refined his artistic techniques, eventually growing into a master carver whose work was featured in every major Inuit art collection. He passed his knowledge onto his own sons, Alariaq and Padlalik Shaa, who are also well-known sculptors.

Since 1961, Axangayuk’s work has been exhibited extensively across Canada, the United States, and Germany. As a masterworks sculptor, Axangayuk Shaa was renowned for his large drummers, caribou, bear and walrus carvings, as well as for his ‘transformation’ pieces. He was known for his unparalleled ability to capture the weight and power of a walrus, as well as its softness in motion. In 2003, Axangayuk’s artistic achievement was honoured with an election to the Royal Canadian Academy of Arts.

Although he passed away in February of this year, Axangayuk’s spirit and legacy live on through his artwork, as well as through the lasting impact that he had on the Inuit art we see today.

Nunavut Day celebrates the creation of the Canadian territory of Nunavut. The Nunavut Land Claims Agreement was signed on July 9th, 1993, and was put into effect with the Nunavut Act on April 1st, 1999. This agreement transferred the land title for nearly 350,000 km2  into the hands of the Inuit, officially separating the area from the Northwest Territories and marking the creation of Nunavut as a distinct territory within Canada. Cape Dorset is one of the most famous art producing communities in Nunavut, with Axangayuk Shaa once being one of the active master carvers in the community.

Explore Axangayuk’s online collection here or in person at the gallery.