Any regular IAQ reader will be familiar with Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak’s outstanding work. Their art has been featured in the magazine since they were an emerging artist, donned the cover of the Spring 2022 issue of the print magazine, and has even stood ten feet tall outside of Toronto’s Onsite Gallery.
Here, IAQ Associate Editor Napatsi Folger hears from Kablusiak on five works that illustrate the many directions in their practice.
Kablusiak Red Ookpik (2022) Dyed sealskin, felt, fibre fill, embroidery floss and leather 16.5 x 9.5 x 9.5 cmPHOTO PHILIP KANWISCHER COURTESY NORBERG HALL © THE ARTIST
Red Ookpik (2022) is one in a series of ookpiks that includes Garfield, a Furby and several plucked ookpiks—all of which represent the cheeky and subversive approach to Inuit art and popular culture for which Kablusiak is known. This crimson owl was made for Art Toronto 2022 (the first time Kablusiak attended Art Toronto in-person with Calgary based gallery Norberg Hall), and was initially conceptualized as a piece for an artist exchange with Brandon Hoax. The Haudenosaunee, Onyota'a:ka (Oneida), Two-Spirit artist had made a harness for Kablusiak (and other participants) as part of their exhibition, MOVEMARROW, which explored Indigenous sexual sovereignty. “I was joking that I need to make him a dom ookpik to go with the sub,” Kablusiak explains. “It’ll have a tiny leather daddy hat.”
Kablusiak Two girls one computer (2023) Pencil crayon and ink on paper 35.6 x 43.2 cmPHOTO JUSTIN WONNACOTT COURTESY CARLETON UNIVERSITY ART GALLERY © THE ARTIST
Two girls one computer
Inspired by Annie Pootoogook and other Inuit artists who primarily used pencil crayon, Two girls one computer (2023) was created for Drawing on Our History, a group show at Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, ON, in January 2023. This piece combines two subjects that are often touched on in the artist’s work: nostalgia and sexual exploration. Kablusiak, never one to shy away from intimate or graphic subjects, noted that they were a “mid-2000s emo kid” and that this piece is a kind of self-portrait. They are depicted on the left, watching porn with a friend as curious and awkward teenagers.
Kablusiak Hidden Pictures (2020) Digital drawing 27.9 x 21.6 cmCOURTESY THE ARTIST © THE ARTIST
Hidden Pictures (2020) is a digital drawing in a series of three that Kablusiak drew for their 2020 exhibition ublak tikiyuak at Artspeak in Vancouver, BC. This piece is significant as an example of Kablusiak’s trademark playfulness and unique ability to incorporate audience engagement into their work. The show featured a number of sculptures and larger drawings that Kablusiak made, with the three digital drawings printed as handouts (like colouring or activity pages) to accompany the exhibition. The piece is still available as a PDF on Norberg Hall’s website. Kablusiak notes that this was their first digital work. “I felt like there was charcoal powder on my hand that I had to wipe away,” the artist says, describing the experience of drawing digitally. “I caught myself twice doing it and I was like, this is embarrassing.”
Kablusiak Things that both a relative you haven’t seeing in a long time and the river could say (2019), engraving on stone during high flow, part of The Wandering Island installation, in collaboration with Lane Shordee and Holly Nasogaluak CarpenterPHOTO CAITLIND BROWN © THE ARTIST
Things that both a relative you haven’t seen in a long time and the river could say
This piece is part of the public art project The Wandering Island by Caitlind r.c. Brown, Wayne Garrett and Lane Shordee. Kablusiak made engraved stones with Shordee, a Calgary-based scavenger artist. It is significant for the artist because they struggled with the idea of making a piece of public art that would be permanently placed on lands that are not their ancestral home. “The water is, I think, something that connects us all,” says Kablusiak. “So I wanted to use that as an entry point to be able to bring in tenderness, and that aspect of family and history, and what makes us all connected. I think that was a really nice way for me to make work on these lands.”
Things… is also a very personal piece. Engraved in limestone in their own handwriting, the text is a statement that could be said by an estranged relative or the age-old talk of a river. It can be seen in the Elbow River at Elbow Island Park in Calgary, AB.
Kablusiak Surprise Bag | Party City (where you belong) (2022) Steatite sucker, steatite candy roll, “mystery” tiny wall hanging, butt-plug keychain, It Never Ends sticker, Crying Smiley Face sticker, Itkin Sanimun Gunigun temporary tattoo, Dollarama temporary tattoo, archivally printed bagPHOTO PHILIP KANWISCHER COURTESY NORBERG HALL © THE ARTIST
Surprise Bag (2022) brings the artist back to childhood visits to 7-Eleven in Edmonton, AB, with their father and feeling each $2 bag to try to assess which one was the best. This collection brings together multimedia work that Kablusiak has experimented with throughout their career, from stone-carved candy to mini wallhangings and digital drawings. With the surprise bag as its central element, the 2022 Norberg Hall show Party City (where you belong) skillfully expressed Kabluisiak’s versatility as an artist who can work in multiple mediums.
This project also illustrates how experimentation and relationship-building with other artists have been key to Kablusiak’s practice: “The butt plug keychain actually came out of a residency at UBC Okanagan during the Indigenous Arts Intensive held by Tania Willard. So that was a cool way to be able to make something there and give it another life later.”
Read more about the other longlisted artists
The Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award is made possible through the support of individual donors and RBC Emerging Artists.