Brilliant colours and crisp lines, video game characters reimagined with tunniit patterns and tech-savvy Inuit from sci-fi futures are among the recurring themes populating Dayle Kubluitok’s marvellous universe that imagines a convergence of Inuit past, present and futures.
Currently based in Iqaluit, NU, Kubluitok primarily focuses on digital art and illustration, which has earned them renown both in their own community as well as across the web. Their work is often exhaustively researched and involves frequent trips to the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum to engage with the museum’s collections and archival photos that depict traditional garments, tattoos and hairstyles, which are incorporated into many of their illustrations.
In March 2019, Kubluitok won a contest through Northwestel, which saw their illustration of an iconic intersection in Iqaluit, dubbed the “Four Corners,” grace the cover of the territory’s phone book. The image, drawn to depict a cool night illuminated only by a streetlamp, headlights, lit apartment windows and the distant northern lights, was warmly received by community members familiar with the area. “I couldn’t believe it,” they say of their win. “I had to call my mom right away and tell her.” Hot off the heels of that success, they were asked to design and contribute to the installation of a new mural for the Iqaluit Aquatic Centre and crafted a line drawing of four seals that now greets visitors to the facility.
Dayle Kubluitok Four Corners (2019) Digital illustration COURTESY THE ARTIST
This responsiveness to their community, and commitment to social justice, is apparent through projects such as their June 2020 illustration commissioned by the Nunavut Black History Society to be used in protests staged in Iqaluit during a global wave of mobilization against police brutality. Three fists in varying skin tones—two with traditional tattoos—are framed with purple flowers against a backdrop of the outline of Nunavut. Kubluitok’s message is clear—Nunavut is in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and Inuit have a voice in the global conversation about police violence as it unfolds in real time. Having since been acquired by the Nunatta Sunakkutaangit Museum, the piece captures a distinct moment in history and was widely shared across the community and social media.
Kubluitok frequently recasts characters from mainstream media, such as TV shows and video games, reimagining and recontextualizing them, and building a space for Inuit within the flow of popular culture. They cite The Legend of Zelda as a recurring source of inspiration for their illustrations that fuse figures from popular culture with elements of Inuit culture, and link these recontextualizations to ideas of identity and agency: “I wanted to make something that I wish I saw growing up, something mainstream mixed with my culture,” they explain. “To put that thought in everything I create so that other people who look like me can see themselves in my work.”
Black Lives Matter poster designed by Dayle Kubluitok for the Nunavut Black History Society in 2020 COURTESY NUNATTA SUNAKKUTAANGIT MUSEUM
Kubluitok strives for positive representation of Inuit and LGBTQ communities throughout their visual storytelling. They have also made illustrations of healthy and loving Inuit couples and families across the spectrum of gender and sexuality a central component of their practice—same-sex and non-binary partners kunik, kiss and embrace tenderly in their digital drawings, clad in tattoos and traditional attire. At first, they admit, the prospect of sharing this frank work was intimidating, but they have since been reassured by waves of positive feedback on their affectionate representations. “I really wanted that positive representation,” they recall. “At first, I was scared to post those images, but now people have been thanking me for sharing and they’ve been getting so much love.”
Carefully blending aspects of Inuit culture, from beadwork to traditional hairstyles, with community representation and references to current pop culture, Kubluitok’s work does not privilege any one point in history, but rather explores Inuit experience beyond crystallized moments in time and space. From humorous references to an “Inuk-ified” baby Yoda in the hood of an amauti, to fantasies of Inuit operating technology that still has yet to be invented, culture and identity are demonstrated through their work as intersectional, as well as constantly evolving and adapting. Going forward, Kubluitok dreams of continuing to expand and publish their work, with new media on the horizon. “I really want to get into comics and graphic novels,” they say. “Maybe some animations—we’ll see.”
This Profile was made possible through support from the RBC Foundation’s Emerging Artists Project. This Profile originally appeared in the Fall 2020 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.