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Kablusiak Wins the $100,000 Sobey Art Award

Nov 20, 2023
by IAQ

Kablusiak has been named the 2023 winner of the Sobey Art Award. Based in Calgary, AB, the multidisciplinary Inuvialuk artist is known for work that reflects on topics like contemporary Indigeneity, cultural displacement and mental illness. Kablusiak is the first Inuvialuk artist to win the award and the third Inuk, following Laakkuluk Williamson Bathory in 2021 and Annie Pootoogook (1969–2016) in 2006.

The win was announced on November 18 in a ceremony at the National Gallery of Canada (NGC) in Ottawa, ON, by 2022 winner Divya Mehra. 

When asked by the IAQ after the ceremony how it felt to win Kablusiak said, “There’s an unbelievable amount of support that I’m feeling, it’s very surreal. And just to think back to little art school Jade, little art school Kablusiak, and now [being] here. It’s crazy.”

Known as Canada’s preeminent award for the contemporary visual arts with a grand prize of $100,000, the Sobey Art Award recognizes exceptional contemporary Canadian artists who are at critical juncture in their careers. This year’s jury was comprised of five distinguished representatives from Canada’s five regions: Atlantic Provinces, Quebec, Ontario, the Prairies and North, and the West Coast and Yukon.

“The 2023 Sobey Art Award jury felt compelled by Kablusiak’s fearless and unapologetic practice that confounds old categories and art histories and points to new imaginaries,” said Jonathan Shaughnessy, NGC’s Director of Curatorial Initiatives, and Chair of the jury, in a press release accompanying the announcement. “Their multidisciplinary vocabulary deploys the experience of being looked at without being seen that shapes Inuit and queer realities in both the art world and society at large. . . The jury welcomes the provocations that Kablusiak’s work introduces into prevailing languages of contemporary art.”

Kablusiak’s tongue-in-cheek work has taken the contemporary art world by storm. Their iconic soft sculpture Plucked Ookpik (2021), which was featured on the cover of Inuit Art Quarterly Spring 2022 issue, is one among many of the artist’s witty yet eloquent works that pay homage to traditional Inuit art while simultaneously reconsidering how Inuit art and artists are defined. Reimagining the original ookpik dolls—which were first made by Jeannie Snowball in Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, QC, and later became national symbols at Montreal’s Expo 67—Kablusiak honours the shape of the traditional dolls but dresses them up with trappings of contemporary pop culture. Plucked Ookpik and its counterparts Furby Ookpik (2021), Garfield Ookpik (2021) and others are on view in the NGC’s 2023 Sobey Art Award Exhibition.


Part of Kablusiak’s installation at the Sobey Art Award Exhibition 2023. From left: Red Ookpik with Hat (2022), Red Ookpik with Harness (2022), Plucked Ookpik (2021), Furby Ookpik (2021) and Garfield Ookpik (2022)

As for the $100,000 prize, “I want to re-invest it into my practice to be able to have more studio space,” said Kablusiak.  

The coveted award is the largest for the visual arts in Canada since it was established in 2002. Kablusiak was shortlisted among four other artists—Séamus Gallagher (Atlantic), Anahite Norouzi (Quebec), Michèle Pearson Clarke (Ontario) and Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill (West Coast & Yukon)—who each received $25,000 and took part in the 2023 Sobey Art Award exhibition, on view until March 2024. 

Kablusiak has an interesting history with this award, having previously been shortlisted in 2019. Winning the Sobey is one of a number of accolades they have accumulated in recent years. In 2022 Kablusiak’s work was featured on a 10-ft mural at OCAD’s Onsite Gallery in Toronto, ON, and later in the year their work at the Scotiabank CONTACT Photography Festival received the 2022 Gattuso Prize. In 2023, they were shortlisted for the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award

When asked what this win means for Inuit art and artists Kablusiak said, “I’m so excited to be one of the three Inuit and the first Inuvialuit winner…I hope that my presence in this spotlight will show young Inuit that they can be here, too.”

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