Qavavau was born in Brandon, Manitoba in 1958 where his mother, Paunichea, was hospitalized for treatment of Tuberculosis. He returned to Kinngait (Cape Dorset) as a very young child and has lived there ever since.
He focuses primarily on printmaking and drawing, and began in the 1980s at the West Baffin Cooperative where he rapidly became a master printmaker in lithography and stonecutting. From the mid-1990s and onwards, his work has been featured in most of the Cape Dorset Print Collections.
Manumie has been drawing since his late teens and is considered to be a part of the new generation that has redefined Inuit art through re-invention and creating works reflect of the depth of his personal vision. Only in recent years has his drawings reached a more global audience.
Although not prolific, he has demonstrated a range of stylistic abilities, from the very literal to the more expressive. His thematic concerns include depictions of Inuit legends and mythology. Arctic wildlife and illustrations of some of the more contemporary aspects of Inuit life are often found in his work.
He draws from the natural environment and blends realistic figures with a lively, imaginative and colourful sense of humour and whimsy – both in the design and title.
In addition to wildlife, Manumie’s works include little people or ‘Inuralaat’. These tiny figures are shown in relationship to everyday objects such as a shovel, harpoon, and even a TV in large scale that even the Inuralaat can still carry. As a young boy, his father told his stories of the Inuralaat and warmed him to stay away if he ever saw their tracks in the snow as they may attack. In his drawings, these little figures are always moving and working with objects thereby inciting humour into these normal daily interactions between human and object.
At times, he incorporates politics into his landscapes and an example is his 2007 Untitled drawing that has a deep crack in the ice that appears to be growing towards an inhabited settlement. The controversial warming of the planet is emphasized by the deep blue of the water that is visible in the thin ice surrounding the crack. His Inuralaat will have to relocate their home which may sink into the water at any time.
These realistic and gritty scenes are contrasted with the fanciful and light naturalistic works that both come from the same artist’s imagination. This, along with his unique sensibility, has greatly contributed to his success as a contemporary artist.
An accomplished and precise printmaker, Qavavau’s work has been exhibited within Canada in such institutions as the National Gallery of Canada and the Canadian Museum of History as well as internationally.
Currently, he lives with his wife and son Peter in Cape Dorset.