Multimedia artist Kablusiak is making old new again while honouring the materials and techniques that made Inuit art beloved across the globe. IAQ had the opportunity to speak with Kablusiak about their recent nomination for the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award Shortlist and their plans for the future of their art making.
From their stone-carved butt plug to textile wall hangings of grocery shopping and sitting on the toilet, Kablusiak uses mediums typical of legacy Inuit artists to render modern life.
Kablusiak Looking At Facebook (2019) Felt, thread and fabric glue 20.3 x 27.9 cmCOURTESY Norberg Hall
Inuit Art Quarterly: We're here to talk about the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, first off congratulations on being named to the shortlist this year. I wonder if we could start at the beginning. When did you first become interested in art?
Kablusiak: Maybe grade six, we were painting and we did some watercolour and then we put salt on the paintings to absorb the extra water. But that made me feel like 'oh, damn, this is sick.' I could do this forever.
Kablusiak Piliutuyara (robin hood) (2020) LED Lightbox with transmuted Lightjet Duratrans 81.3 x 121.9 cm courtesy Norberg Hall
IAQ: Was there a point at which you started thinking of yourself as a professional artist?
K: Probably not until I graduated from Alberta University of the Arts, in 2016. And even then I was just working whatever jobs and getting whatever art opportunities I could. Even now I get weird or shy when someone asks 'oh, what do you do for a living?' I usually just say 'independent contractor,' so people don't have to say, 'Oh, lemme see your art!'
IAQ: How has your career changed, or grown or unfolded over the past few years?
K: Whenever I think about it, it's really crazy. It just seems so rapid. I still feel like a little art-school baby. It feels like when you're riding a train, and you are zoning out. And then all of a sudden, you're at the complete other end of the city. I hopped on the train, and did my thing, and then suddenly it's like, 'Oh, damn, I'm here.' The pandemic also hasn't helped the zoned-out feeling but I try not to think about it too much because it's so wild. Not to discredit all the work I put in, but I'm pretty blessed, or, whatever the secular word for blessed is.
IAQ: As part of your submission package for the 2021 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award you submitted your artist statement, which said, "while many of my past works were created surrounding the theme of cultural disconnect, my current and future projects are centered around cultural reclamation and building towards a more holistic understanding of displacement, loss and discovery." What do you think influenced the shift in the focus of your work?
K: I didn't have too many Indigenous peers in art school, I had my crew and they're still around and I'm still thankful for those people. I think after I finished art school, having more Indigenous-specific and Inuit-specific voices and perspectives is what really changed it; having conversations with them about decentering whiteness and colonization as a focal point in your practice. Colonization takes up so much brain power, why should I put that into my art? Why should I let that dictate what I make? I think that having people around and having people to talk to about this stuff really shifted my mentality.
Kablusiak Hidden Pictures (2020) Digital drawing 47 x 27.9 cm Courtesy Norberg Hall
IAQ: What drives you to create?
K: Think that comes from a couple different sources. I never considered myself any kind of storyteller. I feel bad for you if you have to listen to me tell a story because it's just a garbage mess of information. I’m better at getting my point across with objects or pictures where you don't have to hear me ramble, that's definitely a part of it. But I also think that by creating I'm trying to flag to other Inuit or to other Indigenous folks, trying to reach out and be in conversation with them. Sometimes I make work knowing that white audiences are gonna eat it up. And I feel that half of my practice is like being a smarty and sort of tongue in cheek, I like to kind of fuck around with my art.
IAQ: Who or what are some of your inspirations?
K: It's definitely a mix. The more I think about it, the more nostalgia plays a role in my influences. Pop culture. Being born in the '90s I liked dumb stuff like Garfield. I love the absurdity of some of those things.
IAQ: What challenges have you faced in becoming an artist?
K: The challenges that I have faced have been really internal. Imposter syndrome, exhaustion, questioning my intentions, questioning who's my audience and having that inner conversation and battle of ‘why are you doing this?’ Getting to the root of those questions is something that is probably beneficial, but really difficult. So, I have all those self doubts, but I have to step back and think oh, whose voice is that really? Is it you telling yourself that? Or is it colonialism? Is it white supremacy? Is it negative voices from outside influences that I've just absorbed? So I really have to step back and remember that those thoughts don't sound like me; that sounds like a white supremacist. That's been a big, ongoing forever struggle.
Kablusiak Garfield sitting in an iglu (inspired by Agnes Topiak's "Sleeping Family" 1970) (2021) Sharpie on handmade paper 20.3 x 25.4 cm courtesy Norberg Hall
IAQ: Do you think you've been able to deal with those internal challenges more as you've acknowledged that colonialism has such a strong impact on your self-perception? Or is it just an ongoing constant struggle?
K: A little bit of both. My brain will sometimes choose to forget that those outside influences affect the way I think about my work and myself in general. But again, going back to having Indigenous and Inuit friends is so helpful and important. I spend a stupid amount of time on Instagram, but along with all the dumb cat pictures, there are usually some really good infographics about colonialism and white supremacy, and how rest can be productive. Those visual reminders are very important to have around so that you don't end up burning yourself out or end up in a shame spiral and never make artwork ever again.
IAQ: What would winning the 2021 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award mean for the future of your practice? Are there projects that you want to take on?
K: I've always been really bad at the administrative end of my own practice. Administrative stuff is fun for other people, but for some reason, I cannot force myself to keep track or be a good arts administrator. It sounds so boring but ergonomics are no joke, you could really mess up your back from having a bad desk. So as boring as that is, I want to be able to put together a good work setup to make sure I don't break my body even further than I already have. To put it differently, I'm investing in myself.
IAQ: You've done some residencies before. Are there other residences or mentorships that you would be interested in doing in the future?
K: I was accepted into a residency before the pandemic hit and I am really hoping that that will still happen. It was Kinship Medicines at the Banff Centre for the Arts. It sounds like a really beautiful residency so my fingers are crossed. But also the Fogo Island Arts’ International Residency program. We kept trying to find times in our calendars to plan it, but the whole world is crazy and pandemic-y but that residency is set for early fall next year. I'm glad to go when the weather's not too bad, my prairie bones don't like to be around that humid cold.
Kablusiak Condom (2019) Soapstone and tung oil 5.1 x 5.1 x 0.2 cm Courtesy Norberg Hall
IAQ: Why are award opportunities like the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award important to you, and other artists?
K: As much as I don't love competition and the scarcity model we have to operate within, in this country currently known as Canada, these opportunities are really amazing, to be able to put your guts out there and apply and hope for the best. It's not only an affirmation that you're on the right path and that people like your work as much as you like it, hopefully, but, financially, it's just a really big stress relief. It's also nice to have your name out there. I just hope it's inspirational for folks who end up seeing things like this who are from smaller communities, or from the North, who want to create art, I hope they see that a punk like me has succeeded and think, “Oh, hey, if they could do it, I can do it. I want to try hard and beat them.”
IAQ: Is it important to you that the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award jury is composed of all Inuit?
K: Is that the case? Wow, wow, that's dope! I love that. I think that's super sick. Very important that it's for us and by us. Having that autonomy of an all-Inuk jury is really amazing.
IAQ: Is there anything you'd like to say to the jury and the supporters?
K: Big, big thank you. My mom always says big thank you. And she's like, ‘I don't even know what big thank you means.’ She's so funny. But a very big thank you to the jurors and the donors for making this possible. It's very exciting.
Read interviews with the other shortlisted artists
This interview was conducted by video call in August 2021. It has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Join the shortlisted artists for a conversation about their work and contemporary Inuit art on Tuesday, August 24 at 7 PM EST on Zoom.
The winner of the 2021 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award will be announced on Wednesday, September 8 at 7pm EST via Zoom.
Register today to secure your seat!