Unbound by medium, multidisciplinary Inuvialuk artist and 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award shortlister Kablusiak is breaking molds and expectations of what constitutes Inuit art. Kablusiak is known for their witty and wry sense of humour that manifests in a range of works from photography and textiles, to drawing and carving. Their artworks turn everyday objects and human experiences on their head, intersecting playfulness and seriousness, and inspiring intimate reflection.
IAQ Associate Editor Lisa Frenette reached out to five people who have worked with or been inspired by Kablusiak to get their perspectives on the artist’s impact.
Kablusiak and Missy LeBlanc at Atautchikun | wâhkôtamowin (2021-2022) at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon, SKPHOTO MISSY LEBLANC
Kablusiak is a very dear friend of mine, whom I have had the pleasure to know for six years now. We met in 2017 when they joined Ociciwan Contemporary Art Collective, where I was working as a Project Coordinator at the time. We maintained a friendship through our time there, and in 2019 while we worked together at TRUCK Contemporary Art in Calgary, our relationship blossomed.
Kablusiak and I co-curated Atautchikun | wâhkôtamowin (2021-2022) at the Remai Modern in Saskatoon and had so much fun working together and learning from each other. Throughout the project, Kablusiak generously taught me words and phrases in Inuvialuktun, told me the stories behind some of the figures depicted in the printworks and sculptures, and shared other aspects of Inuit Qauijimajatuqangit that provided me with a solid foundation to work with the objects in the Remai’s collection. The care and appreciation Kablusiak has for their cultural knowledge and the pride they have as an Inuvialuk was evident throughout the project.
What I love about Kablusiak’s practice is the subversive nature of the works and their IDGAF attitude when it comes to creating. Their practice is so much more than tongue-in-cheek works using materials found in what is considered traditional Inuit art. Although the use of humour is a large part of their practice, to stop there is a simplistic understanding of their work. When one looks beyond what lies on the surface, you can see the deep layers of institutional critique, care, reciprocity, autonomy, and intimacy in all its forms that create the undercurrents of their artistic and curatorial practice. The care that they put into their practice is only exceeded by the amount of care and love they imbue their relationships with.
Missy LeBlanc (Métis/nêhiyaw/Polish) is an award-winning curator, researcher and writer based on the Prairies. She is currently completing a Master of Arts in Cultural Studies, Curatorial Practices from the University of Winnipeg on Treaty 1 Territory.
Kablusiak Heart Paddle (2022) Dyed sealskin, leather and artificial sinew 30.5 × 17.8 × 6.4 cmCOURTESY NORBERG HALL © THE ARTIST
I first met Kablusiak through their sibling, Jordan, who I had become friends with during my undergrad at the University of Alberta. We met again in 2017 after we were awarded Alberta Foundation for the Arts Young Artist Prizes (along with 23 other recipients). AFA asked the Indigenous recipients to take part in an artists’ talk that summer, and we reconnected there, and again the following year at the Banff Centre. We went to bingo, karaoke in the basement, and we also went to my first sushi train restaurant. They introduced me to some amazing artists, and it was just a magical time.
Kablusiak’s work is hilarious and absurd (with a strong undercurrent of badass and proudly Inuk). Their body of artwork is a liberating embrace of the numerous parts our lives that many of us are taught to be ashamed of (like our sexuality, sex toys, fetishes, being in our bodies or our feelings).
At the beginning of the pandemic, I was invited to write a postscript about Kablusiak’s ublaak tikiyuak at Artspeak. I worked by immersing myself in the photos of their exhibition and freewriting. In ublaak tikiyuak, they brought together several of their works that speak to feelings of cultural displacement and homesickness. Their work inspired me to write about my own queer experiences, mixed in with other pieces about my relationship with my indigeneity, my mother, and our ancestral home in the Northwest Territories.
More recently, in November 2022, I attended a virtual artists’ talk with Kablusiak and their mother Holly Carpenter. Kablusiak spoke with such love and emotion about the importance of language revitalization. It was probably one of the most empowering experiences of my life. Kablusiak has changed my life for the better in so many ways, and I am so grateful to know them.
Kaitlyn Purcell is Dene-Irish and an urban member of Smith's Landing First Nation. She is a PhD candidate at the University of Calgary where she is creating a multimodal memoir on dreamwork, personal archives and intergenerational grief. It is tentatively titled Łuk'é: A Child Called Dream. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including a doctoral SSHRC award and the Metatron Prize for her debut poetic novella ʔbédayine.
Kablusiak Party City (where you belong) (2022)COURTESY NORBERG HALL PHOTO PHILIP KANWISCHER © THE ARTIST
I first encountered Kablusiak’s work at Stride Gallery in Mohkinstsis/Calgary, AB. They had a carving there and it was something that stuck with me—I couldn't get it out of my mind. I couldn’t shake it, it was just so profound. I reached out to them shortly afterwards and since then we have formed a beautiful friendship.
Kablusiak is one of those people who has magic in them. They have an energy and knowledge in them that is like a once-in-a-lifetime thing—it’s hard to explain. They are an immensely talented person with a unique perspective and approach to their practice that looks at the past, reflects on the present and nods to the future. You could walk by their work and think it is one way, but once you sit with it—the actual weight of what is being said—it resonates differently and it just punches you in the gut. The absurdity in Kablusiak’s work makes you question why you're laughing. It makes us think, “Was I supposed to feel this way or laugh at that, or was I supposed to feel another way?”
Their work is very multi-disciplinary and can be appreciated on many different levels. Their surprise bags for their exhibition Party City (where you belong) (2022) were so playful and such an ingenious take on a multiple. There is something near and dear to my heart in watching Kablusiak come together and build these pieces. No matter the materials that they are working with, whether it be felt or sealskin or stone, I am constantly blown away by what they create and how they think. Kablusiak is a force and they are an incredibly caring and considerate person— not only for their family and friends but for their culture and community.
Shannon Norberg is a partner and co-director of Norberg Hall, a commercial art gallery based in Mohkinstsis/Calgary. Shannon is a trusted gallerist, advisor, and advocate for both emerging and established artists. She nurtures relationships with collectors, museums, and institutions to showcase and promote contemporary Canadian art. Shannon actively contributes to the community by serving on art advisory boards, as a speaker, and by supporting initiatives to advance equality.
Kablusiak Piliutiyara (Robin Hood) (2020) archival digital print from faded positive slide film 61 x 91.4 cmCOURTESY NORBERG HALL © THE ARTIST
Kablusiak was one of five artists shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2019, so I had already done some research into their work and art practice at that time. We had the opportunity to choose an artist from the shortlist to award the Fogo Island Arts-Sobey Award Residency. Naturally, Kablusiak was a fantastic match for the residency. For me, the interplay between everyday objects and encounters in Kablusiak’s work has a clear resonance with the way of life on the island. We were delighted to welcome Kablusiak on the island for a residency period of one month.
Kablusiak’s practice exists as a constellation and a body of works rather than a collection of individual objects. Something, however, that I have been personally struck by is the interplay between and notions of humour, iconography and the possibility of new and emerging futures that their work plays upon. Though mine and Kablusiak’s personal experiences are very distinct, the intertwining of art and humour is a linchpin for gestures of empathy and solidarity in their practice. This interplay lets spectators engage with the works with curiosity.
I think it would be great to see Kablusiak’s work in an international biennale context. There are so many strong thematic resonances in their work that would resonate perfectly in an international group setting, and I am confident that we will see more of their work in these contexts soon.
Nicolaus Schafhausen is a curator, director, author and editor of numerous publications on contemporary art. Since 2011 he has been the Strategic Director of Fogo Island Arts, Canada, an initiative of Shorefast, a charitable foundation dedicated to finding alternative solutions for the revitalisation of areas prone to emigration.
Installation view of the Sobey Art Award Exhibition, Art Gallery of Alberta, 2019COURTESY ART GALLERY OF ALBERTA PHOTO CHARLES COUSINS © THE ARTIST
Kablusiak’s work has both a subtlety and sharpness to it. The first works of Kablusiak’s that I encountered were their carvings of a menstrual cup and a lighter—everyday objects and not what people are used to typically seeing in Inuit carving. I love the unexpected cheekiness in their work and the subverting of southerner expectations of Inuit art. They are taking stereotypical ideas about Inuit and presenting a more realistic notion of what an everyday object to an Inuk might be.
Kablusiak has such a diversity in their practice. I feel like everything they make is my new favourite piece. I particularly love their carvings and their felt works, such as their carving of a container of floss with a piece of sinew, or their piece about scrolling through Facebook while on the toilet. What is really interesting about Kablusiak is the broader themes that you can find sprinkled throughout their work, from their carvings to their drawings, to their photography and beyond. They have a consistency to their practice for making art that is totally unexpected.
I think a lot of times artists can get pigeonholed into a stereotypical aesthetic, and I think every body of work that Kablusiak comes out with continually breaks the mold of what they've done before. The typical ways of describing an artist by the medium they work with don’t apply with them. Kablusiak’s work cannot be placed into a box.
Lindsey Sharman is a curator and writer based on Treaty 6 territory in Edmonton and has been the Curator of the Art Gallery of Alberta since 2018. She is interested in sensorial art experiences and how the entire body and mind can be engaged by art.
Read more about the other shortlisted artists.
The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.