The Shaman’s Wife
‘The Shaman’s Wife’ by Pitseolak Ashoona, RCA, OC – Inuit Art – Cape Dorset 1980 print collection presented by DaVic Gallery of Native Canadian Arts.
Condition: Very Good condition – However, print has been trimmed 4 1/4 inches from bottom of the print by previous ownership. Original paper measurements were 28″ x 20″. Image and elements remain strong and clear.
Description by Artist: No description by artist found.
Notes from DaVic Gallery: Depictions of shamans and shamanic activities, such as flying, are somewhat common in Indigenous and Inuit art. Shamans visit the spirit world by flight, aided by their bird spirit helpers. What is new here, at least to me, is a depiction of a member of a shaman’s family – a shaman’s wife. What would move the artist to depict not the shaman, but his wife? What is unique about her in this painting?
To my eye, she is a human with a deep connection to the spirit world. She has a bird that could be her spirit helper, helping her traverse both worlds – the human and the spirit. She appears to sit in a trans-like state, with her eyes rolled up half-way to the back of her head. The bird, with a distinct colouring, is connected to the top of her head, signalling the affinity of the human and the animal.
When we reflect on the painter’s background, it makes sense to assume that the shaman’s wife is not an ordinary person, but, perhaps, in her own right is a shaman. In the book Pitseolak: Pictures Out of My Life (edited by Dorothy Eber, 2nd ed., McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2003), Pitseolak Ashoona writes, “My name is Pitseolak, the Eskimo word for the sea pigeon. When I see pitseolaks over the sea, I say, there go those lovely birds—that’s me, flying!” It is easy to imagine that the shaman’s wife is doing just that: flying.