Oviloo Tunnillie RCA

Inuit Native Artist Oviloo Tunnillie RCA from Cape Dorset

Cape Dorset

(1949 – 2014)

Oviloo Tunnillie was born in 1949 in Kangia, a small camp on the South Coast of Baffin Island near Kinngait. She was the daughter of two artists, Sheojuk and Toonoo Toonoo. She grew up traditionally on the land, but like many Inuit of the era, was hospitalized as a child in the south for tuberculosis.

Having watched her father carve, Oviloo made her first carving at the age of seventeen – a woman without legs, with a baby on her back. Since then, she became one of Cape Dorset’s most celebrated sculptors, and perhaps the only female sculptor who consciously competed with the men.

Oviloo’s sculpture transcends common conceptions about Inuit art that it does not capitalize on its ethnicity. Her work can be regarded as aligned with “Post-contemporary” tendencies, an approach that is distinguished by new modes of art-making.

Among the artists pushing the boundaries of Inuit art, Olivoo’s sculpture is remarkable for its sometimes subtle, sometimes over feminist content. Oviloo’s work is conceptual, reflects her life, and is intensely personal. She often dealt with issues that others are reluctant to portray, such as a depiction of larger social concerns, particularly those affecting women. Much of her work features a woman, who is Oviloo herself. Like much of her work, these pieces are introspective — reflecting her trials, her tribulations, and her growth as an artist.

Also setting her apart is Oviloo’s use of the nude human figure in her work — a subject that few Inuit artists choose to depict. Oviloo carved nudes for years, contrasting the sensuous shapes of the body with texture and geometric patterning. Her sculptures exhibit a quiet, elegant simplicity. Oviloo had begun experimenting with fragmentary human figures.

Oviloo was elected to the Royal Canadian Academy of the arts in 2003. She exhibited extensively in Canada, the United States, Belgium, Germany, Sweden, Switzerland, and France. She was also featured in the video Keeping Our Stories Alive: the Sculpture of Canada’s Inuit, produced by Indian and Northern Affairs Canada. In 2000 she participated in the Millennium Sculpture Symposium in Iqaluit.

Exhibitions List available upon request.  Coastal Peoples Gallery is pleased to offer Oviloo Tunnillie sculptures for sale online and in person in our Vancouver, BC-based gallery. We offer personalized service and worldwide shipping.

Works by this Artist (Present + Past + Public)

Present Works

  • Sedna

    Oviloo Tunnillie RCA



    As goddess of the ocean, Sedna sets strict rules about the proper way to treat the animals of the hunt, which the Inuit require for sustenance. This includes proper treatment of the animals’ spirit when killed for food. If she feels the rules have been broken, she cuts off the supply of food. When this happens, the Inuit tribal shaman is required to take a mystical journey to the bottom of the ocean to speak to the goddess. It is considered the most dangerous journey an Inuit shaman is called upon to make.

    Upon arrival at the bottom of the sea the shaman is required to comb Sedna’s hair, because Sedna has no fingers to comb it herself, and to find out what the tribe has done wrong that the food has been cut off. The shaman then makes a deal with Sedna, promising that if the tribe corrects whatever transgressions it has made, the goddess will return their food supply. The shaman then returns to the tribe with the list of things the goddess requires to be done to get the food back.