OVILOO TUNNILLIE

1949 – 2014

Born: Kangia, South Baffin Island, Nunavut

In Cape Dorset, men were typically carvers while women created drawings, prints, and textiles. Inspired by her father, who was an accomplished carver, Tunnillie stepped outside the traditional artistic roles for women and began carving animals and human figures. In 1966, she created the first of her pieces to be sold, Mother and Child.

By the 1980s, Tunnillie began to attract attention for her exploration of less traditional themes. Her work became predominately autobiographical, revealing her early childhood trauma of contracting tuberculosis and being separated from her family to undergo treatment in Manitoba hospitals.

Oviloo Tunnillie. Photo: John Reeves
Oviloo Tunnillee and Tye. Photo: J. Riley
Oviloo Tunnillie. Bird, 1993. Serpentinite. Collection of the Winnipeg Art Gallery. Gift of The Eric Sprott Family, 2017-53

The Female Experience

Over time, women became Tunnillie’s central imagery. A seemingly endless range of emotions is revealed in the body language of her figures, which bridge cultural gaps and express the universality of the human female experience.

Tunnillie was diagnosed with cancer in 2007. She regained her health and resumed carving until the disease claimed her life in 2014.

Oviloo Tunnillie. Ikayukta Tunnillie carrying her drawings to Co-op, 1997. Serpentinite. Collection of Paul and Mary Dailey Desmarais.
Oviloo Tunnillie. Nude (Female Exploitation) (detail), 1993. Serpentinite. Collection of John Cook.