Inuit artist, Quebec filmmaker win Governor General's Awards for visual arts

A Cape Dorset artist whose sculptures and images are icons in Canada and one of Quebec's leading documentary filmmakers are among this year's winners of the Governor General's Awards in visual and media arts.

A Cape Dorset artist whose sculptures and images are icons in Canada and one of Quebec's leading documentary filmmakers are among this year's winners of the Governor General's Awards in visual and media arts.

Kenojuak Ashevak, who created images such as Enchanted Owl, and Serge Giguère, the filmmaker behind Driven by Dreams (À force des rêves), were announced as winners of the $25,000 award in Montreal on Tuesday.

Kenojuak Ashevak is one of the most acclaimed Inuit artists to emerge from Cape Dorset, Nunavut. (Martin Lipman/Canada Council for the Arts)

Other winners of the honour for achievement in the arts are Montreal sculptor Michel Goulet, Dene painter Alex Janvier and multidisciplinarian artists Tanya Mars of Toronto and Eric Metcalfe of Vancouver.

Jeweller Chantal Gilbert, who has penetrated the global market as an artistic knife maker, will get the Saidye Bronfman Award for excellence in the fine crafts.

Shirley Thomson, a director of the Canada Council for the Arts from 1998 to 2002, receives the award for outstanding contribution to the arts.

Each winner will receive $25,000 and be presented with their awards by Gov. Gen. Michaëlle Jean at a ceremony in Ottawa on Friday.

Mars is involved in performance art, sculpture and video and has been a mentor to young artists over the last 30 years.

Tanya Mars as Queen Elizabeth I in her 1986 performance piece Pure Virtue. ((George Whiteside))

"It's very much a surprise because I am a performance artist first and foremost and I would say that visual arts is on the margins of the arts in terms of 'celebrity' in all cultures and performance art is on the margin of that," Mars told CBC News after the award announcement.

"So to think that I could have a sustained practice as a performance artist all these years and for that to be given a Governor General's Award is pretty phenomenal and exciting."

Her works include In Pursuit of Happiness, which has toured Canada and Hot, a performance piece that reflects on middle age. She also edited art magazine Parallelogramme from 1976 to 1989 and is co-editor of Caught in the Act: An Anthology of Performance Art by Canadian Women.

The Enchanted Owl, a 1960 stonecut by Kenojuak Ashevak, is a familiar image to most Canadians. ((Dorset Fine Arts))

Many of Ashevak's drawings, prints and sculptures are familiar to Canadians, because they've been on a series of stamps or permeated popular culture on cards and prints. Among her most famous works are The Owl and The World Around Me.

Ashevak's simple, powerful images have made her one Cape Dorset's most acclaimed artists.

She was born in 1927 on Baffin Island and lived the traditional nomadic life on the land before settling Cape Dorset. She is a member of the Royal Canadian Academy, a companion of the Order of Canada and has a star on Canada's Walk of Fame.

Serge Giguère is one of Quebec's top documentary makers and creator of Driven by Dreams (À force des rêves), which won the Priz Jutra. ((Martin Lipman/Canada Council for the Arts))

Giguère began his career as cinematographer and was co-founder of production houses Les Films d'aventures sociales du Quebec and Les production du Rapide-Blanc. He also was filmmaker-in-residence at the National Film Board in Montreal from 1998 to 2001.

Among his works are À force de rêves, an exploration of aging that won a Priz Jutra for best documentary and award winners such as Depuis que le monde est monde, Le Roi du drum/The King of Drums and 9 St-Augustin.

Sculptor Goulet has shown his work in more than 100 exhibitions, including the Venice Biennale of 1988. He is known for his public art including Les leçons singulières (Special Lessons) and Le carrousel de l'île (The Island Carousel) in Montreal.

Goulet derives particular pleasure from working with discarded objects.

"I think there's a lot in an object we made as humans to help us go through life and I think there's a lot when we discard it that's left in that object. It lived through something," he said.

"It's quite interesting to put it back into a work where it waits for someone to see it and to believe in that object as being their own," Goulet said.

Goulet has created stage designs for opera and theatre and also taught at the University of Ottawa and University of Quebec at Montreal.

Janvier, part of the Cold Lake First Nation from northern Alberta, is a painter whose work is reflects Dene cultural and spiritual traditions, especially in his use of colour. His recent work is abstract, characterized by flowing curvilinear lines.

He was placed in a residential school at age eight and recalled that crayons and paper were his way of communicating.

"I didn't understand English too well so I used to communicate through pictures," he told CBC News.

"You start communicating pictorially and by Christmas I was able to speak quite a bit of English words — it accelerated my learning quite quickly."

Janvier's work is currently being shown at Calgary's Glenbow Museum in Honouring Tradition: Reframing Native Art. He also created the Morning Star mural at the Canadian Museum of Civilization in Gatineau, Que.

Metcalfe has produced painting, drawing, installations, prints, performance and video art since the late 1960s.

He is a co-founder of artist collective Western Front in Vancouver and his current projects include Laura, a personal riff on film noir.

The Saidye Bronfman Award, created in 1977 but given with the Governor General's Awards since 2006, went to Gilbert, a silversmith who has achieved international recognition for her work and teaches at École de joaillerie de Québec in Quebec City.

The National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa will present an exhibition with works by the winners beginning March 27.

With files from the Canadian Press