The Art Hub on Top of the World

Nunavut’s West Baffin Cooperative marks 65 years with a slate of international exhibitions celebrating Inuit art.

West Baffin

In the tiny, remote hamlet of Kinngait in Nunavut, the royal-blue metal building housing the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop is a pop of radiant colour against the stark black-and-white terrain of ice and rock. With 10 per cent of Kinngait’s 1,400 inhabitants working as professional artists, creative energy crackles through the 10,440-square-foot facility, which gathers state-of-the-art studios, a gallery, a restaurant, shops, and meeting rooms under its roof.

All this is made possible by the West Baffin Cooperative, Canada’s oldest Indigenous-owned and Inuit-led arts organization, which celebrates its 65th anniversary this year with more than a dozen events and exhibitions taking place in Canada, the U.S., the U.K., France, Italy, South Korea, and Australia.


West Baffin


Since it was established in 1959—with a Toronto outpost, Dorset Fine Arts, opening in 1978—the cooperative has helped support generations of local artmakers. Shuvinai Ashoona, who has an exhibition at The Perimeter in London on view until April 26 as part of the 65th-anniversary programming, is a third-generation artist whose relatives were stone carvers, painters, and printmakers at the co-op.



West Baffin


In 2022, she received a special mention at the Venice Biennale (high acclaim in the international art world) for her large-scale drawings that mix everyday realities of life in the Arctic with poetic depictions of Inuit animism. One self-referential drawing from her London exhibition depicts four figures holding up their artworks: pictures within a picture. Three of the figures are human; one is smooth, green, and reptilian. All the works in the show have been acquired by Tate, the U.K.’s most revered art institution.


West Baffin


By interfacing with galleries, negotiating partnerships, and facilitating sales, the West Baffin Cooperative is a conduit for raising the profile and reputation of contemporary Inuit art worldwide. Since 2018, its home base has been the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop, which was realized thanks to more than $13 million of private and public-sector funding. The venue was named after prominent Inuk artist Kenojuak Ashevak, who is the subject of a retrospective exhibition on view at the Beaverbrook Art Gallery in Fredericton, New Brunswick, until April 1.

With 100 people on staff, the West Baffin Cooperative is the largest employer in the region and an economic engine. Nearly every adult in Kinngait is a shareholder, with profits redistributed within the community each year. The 65th-anniversary celebrations, says West Baffin Cooperative president Pauloosie Kowmageak, are “an opportunity to acknowledge everyone who has contributed to our growth and to foster those new relationships that will ensure our future prosperity.”





As the epicentre of culture in the region, the West Baffin Cooperative is a venue for appreciating art made in and about the North, as well as a space for locals to learn, preserve, share, and build upon ancestral knowledge. At the Kenojuak Cultural Centre and Print Shop, 14 windows lining the north-facing wall reveal panoramic views of Kinngait’s awe-inspiring frozen tundra—and beyond that, the rest of the world.