• Feature

How Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona Builds Connection

Feb 27, 2023
by IAQ

Ottawa-based Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award–longlisted artist Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona commands many mediums. Trained as an urban planner, she’s also studied printmaking and ceramics and has been a long-time knitter and crocheter. Her  family of artists, with their multigenerational specialization in drawing, printmaking, and textile work, features strongly in her own practice. It is no surprise that, since embracing art as her career, Kabloona has taken on opportunities to further her diverse skill set, whether it be co-founding a small ceramics studio, taking on a Creative Research Residency at the Art Gallery of Guelph, or creating wallpapers for Google Pixel. But as she describes in this interview, in many ways, Kabloona is just getting started.

Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona Interconnected (2022) Ink, gouache and paper 15.24 x 15.25 cm © the artist
Inuit Art Quarterly: Can you tell us how your career as an artist began?

Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona: I had a different career before. I think I was pressured into a ”stable” profession. I didn't find it fulfilling in any way and always really liked creating, so when I stopped working at that job, I decided I really needed to make a go of having an art career because I didn't want to do anything else. It was like, now or never.

I had been taking classes at a local pottery studio, and I had taken some printmaking classes at the Ottawa School of Art in the evenings. When I started trying to make money off of my artwork, I was using block-printing kits at my kitchen table, and making a couple of mugs at a time.

IAQ: How has it changed since then?

GUK: It's exploded. It became professional really quickly. I got my first solo show earlier this year, I started getting grants last year, and I have another two exhibitions coming up and a lot of really high-profile commissions this year. And the KAMA award is huge too!

IAQ: What's the thing that makes you get up every morning and make art?

GUK: My brain constantly comes up with ideas. Before, I used to not have time to bring any of them into the world. I remember sitting at my desk doing something and physically missing my art supplies at home. I wished I was there at home working on them. 

I also find that I'm calmer and more present when my hands are busy. Sewing, knitting or drawing really clears my mind. I love that aspect of it. 

IAQ: Is there a central message to your work?

GUK: When the finished product goes out in the world, I really feel the connection with other people. I'm pouring myself into the piece and then if it resonates with somebody else, I already  know that we're operating on the same wavelength.

KabloonaGayleAngujuaqGayle Uyagaqi Kabloona Angu’juaq (2022) Ink and paper 12.7 x 17.78 cm Courtesy National Arts Centre © the artist

But beyond that, I think about how I grew up. My mom is white, from the States, and my dad is Inuk. I grew up in the South so I grew up a bit distant from Inuit culture. I had my sisters, and we had good relationships with my dad’s side of the family, but I didn’t really get to be in an Inuit community day to day. Growing up, I had to figure out that side of my identity and then when I moved to Nunavut, it was like, “Okay, now you're kind of an outsider. You don't know anything about living in the North.”

Art has been integral to navigating those aspects of my life: being biracial and figuring out my own place in the world. Once I started opening up and getting more comfortable exposing myself and how I felt, I saw that other people were feeling the same way. It was such a relief—to my core—to know I'm not alone.

IAQ: Were there challenges, or other things that stood in the way of becoming the artist you are today? 

GUK: I think it was 100% just me in my own way. As soon as I dealt with my own fears—as soon as I let that go and decided to do it anyway—it was wonderful. Everyone else has been incredibly supportive and the opportunities just keep coming. Those literally make my day.

It feels incredible to be able to be exactly who I am and just say my thoughts and not really have to censor myself. I wish everyone could experience that, and also be recognized for the things that they do as their authentic self. 

IAQ: Could you tell me about your most treasured possession?

GUK: It’s either my dog or one of the wall hangings that my grandma [Victoria Mamnguqsualuk] has made. I have three of them now. One of them was one I wrote about in IAQ. [1]

IAQ: You have also made wall hangings—for example, the first one you made, Tiriganiaq (2022), is based on the story of Kiviuq’s fox wife. If she could speak, what do you think she would say?

GUK: I think she would be a girlboss type: subtle but well spoken. Independent but not toxically independent. Woke. A woke girlboss. She would have gone to therapy. She would say, “Get yourself together, we’re growing, we’re moving on, we have shit to do and life to enjoy.” 

Installation View ᑲᔪHᐃᐅᑎHᐃᒪᔭᑦᑲKajuhiutihimajatkaWhat I’m Carrying OnGayle Uyagaqi Kabloona Tiriganiaq (installation view of ᑲᔪHᐃᐅᑎHᐃᒪᔭᑦᑲ | Kajuhiutihimajatka | What I’m Carrying On) (2022) Courtesy Art Gallery of Guelph Photo Toni Hafkenscheid © the artist

IAQ: If you could travel to any place and time in the world, where would you go and why?

GUK: Anytime before the pandemic. [Laughs]
It would be cool to go back before colonization and see what Indigenous peoples’ lives were actually like, and the amazing amount of biodiversity and undeveloped land. That would be incredible. 

IAQ: What would winning the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award mean for your practice?

GUK: I would be overwhelmed. It would feel incredible. I'm awestruck at how many things have opened up for me over the past year. I’d love to see the opportunities that would come from it and keep my career growing. 

IAQ: Are there any particular projects, collaborations or professional development opportunities that this would allow you to do?

GUK: I’ve really liked working with galleries and curators, and seeing my work through others’ eyes. They bring so much to my work, articulating things about it that I haven’t voiced yet. Working with Taqralik Partridge was great because she’s Inuk and already has so much context for what I do.

People often ask who I would like to collaborate with, but I am the kind of person that likes being at home, making things. I'm not going to branch out into performance art or interact with the art world constantly because it tires me out quite a bit. To me, the best opportunities are ones where I get to do what I like and explore my own creative boundaries. Every project I’ve gotten to work on increases my confidence and ability to make things more interesting. Sometimes it will be pretty small things—I'll be thinking about a new project and pull something that I learned from working on a project a year ago, or base a drawing on a stitch I made, work it into a new artwork in a different way.

Right now, I’m happy just being able to sustain myself with exhibitions and projects that I can continue to grow from.

Read interviews with the other longlisted artists. 


[1] This feature is available in the Summer 2022 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly, Unikkaat/Unikkaaqtuat.

This interview was conducted by phone in December 2022. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.

The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.

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