Known for their witty, playful and often poignant approach to issues including Inuit identity and mental health, Kablusiak’s work is both subversive and loving, light-hearted and cutting. Whether they are working with steatite, rabbit fur, felt, photography or their own hair, Kablusiak celebrates Inuit artistic legacies in their work, while evading colonial expectations of contemporary Inuit representation. The Yellowknife-born, Calgary-based Inuvialuk artist is longlisted again for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award after landing on the shortlist for the 2021 awards, and shares how their practice has evolved in recent years.
Kablusiak Akunnirun Kuupak Series: Shed (2020) Archival inkjet print 69.8 x 98 cm COURTESY GLOBAL AFFAIRS CANADA © THE ARTIST
IAQ: How has your career changed since we spoke last time?
Kablusiak: In the last year, I've thought a lot more about opening the boundaries of what Inuit art is—giving myself permission to just make art without it necessarily being dictated by what I think it should look like. I’ve been giving myself permission to play with ideas, without necessarily having to adhere to them.
I wrote about that idea in an exhibition text for a show at the Remai Modern that me and my multi-talented friend, Missy LeBlanc, co-curated. My essay was about Inuit art with a little “a” and a big “A.” That's how my brain has been delineating it for a while but it's also fun to just get rid of the whole alphabet.
IAQ: What projects have you worked on this year?
K: I had three solo exhibitions this year: one at Norberg Hall, one at The Bows and a show of big murals at Onsite Gallery in Toronto. I was in a lot of amazing group shows and made a lot of lovely connections. I went to Art Toronto for the first time, which made me visualize the art world in a different context. It felt different being not just on screens anymore. Like, “Oh shit, this is real life! Other people make physical objects. It's not just me watching Seinfeld in my studio at one in the morning.”
IAQ: Are there future partnerships or collaborations coming out of those connections?
K: I think when you hang out with other artists, everyone's brains are just like bacon sizzling in a pan. It's like Pop Rocks! It's fun and exciting. When you spend time with other Inuit artists, I think there's always something that could happen out of those meetings and get-togethers.
Kablusiak mitaaqtuaqtunga (no tranlsation provided) Series: Untitled (2022) Digital image COURTESY NORBERG HALL © THE ARTIST
IAQ: Can you talk a bit about your recent residency on Fogo Island?
K: I was there for a month in March to April of last year. It's really beautiful. It looks like up north. I sent pictures to my mum and my cousins and they're like, “Boy, it sure looks like Tuk or Inuvik!” I felt very at home, but it was really nice to have that time and space in the studio. All the staff at Fogo Island Arts are really lovely. Right after that, I did a two-week residency at UBC Okanagan in Kelowna for the Indigenous Art Intensive. That was really short and sweet—two weeks go by so fast.
While I was there, I was inspired by Meagan Musseau, who was making laser-cut acrylic and wood oars for a future project. I ended up making tiny acrylic laser-cut butt plugs and those made it into the Norberg Hall show as keychains.
IAQ: How would winning the 2023 KAMA award help you continue making art?
K: Having the funds to cover things like studio expenses means there is one less thing to worry about. When you have that kind of support, you can work on the fun stuff—the art stuff—and not be stressing about everything. It’s a kind of freedom.
IAQ: Do you have any projects that you would want to do if you win?
K: It would be sick to make some giant sculptures. I’d really like to make some big stuff.
There is a lot I want to do. I want to do more sewing, and I’m not the best sewer, so I feel like having a teacher would be really helpful.
Kablusiak Tampax® tampon and menstrual cup (2017) Steatite and tung oil Photo Paul Litherland/Studio Lux © THE ARTIST
IAQ: What is your most treasured possession?
K: I think it would be the parka that my mom made me, the sunburst ruff was passed on from my great-great grandma.
IAQ: If you could work with any artist—living or dead—who would it be?
K: I feel like working with Maud Lewis would be really cute. I’ve been thinking about her because I have a calendar from the Art Gallery of Nova Scotia. They have a whole section of the museum for Maud Lewis. Her work is just so cute and so free. That freedom you see from outsider artists, you can't replicate that. It's so beautiful.
IAQ: What superpower or talent do you wish you had?
K: Teleportation. I think about it all the time. I don't drive and I don't like taking public transit. You can't bike in Calgary half the year unless you're really dedicated. If I could do teleportation, I could just go to the train station, or go to my partner's house, and not have to wait like, 35 minutes. I think it boils down to me being impatient.
IAQ: Do you have anything coming up in the next year that you’d like to share?
K: Throughout January, I participated as a visiting artist during a residency hosted by FD13 in Minneapolis. I love residencies where, once certain boundaries are put in place, you're free to roam.
I’m also making new work for a group public art exhibition in the Kitchener-Waterloo area as part of the CAFKA Biennial.
IAQ: You were on the 2021 KAMA longlist. How does it feel being on the longlist again for this year?
K: When I apply for things, I never have any expectations about whether it's going to go my way or another way. Part of getting into that mindset is a way to mitigate my feelings and to recognize that whatever happens, happens. So when stuff like this does happen, it's so joyous because I don't ever count on it. When it does, I try not to think about it too much because then I will never stop crying because it's so beautiful and I feel so blessed. I'm excited to see all the folks on the list.
The support from other Inuit means a lot. With all my work, I am making it for Inuit. Even if it's something crazy, goofy and weird, I try to remember that I'm making art for my family, for my friends and community.
Read interviews with the other longlisted artists.
This interview was conducted by video call 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.