This week in April, the Inuit Art Foundation and the Ontario College of Art And Design University (OCAD) reveal a new mural on the side of OCAD’s Onsite Gallery: an 10-ft pair of pink felt ookpiks created by multi-talented Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak.
This mural will be the first in a series of murals called Up Front, presented by Onsite Gallery in partnership with Inuit Art Foundation. Up Front will commission four Inuit artists over two years to create these public digital art pieces. The project is curated by Ryan Rice.
Inspired by the unconventional and humorous, Kablusiak is a Calgary-based multidisciplinary artist and curator who uses their work to consider the perceptions of contemporary Indigeneity and counter the stigma surrounding mental health.
Their playful knack for breaking molds has garnered national attention: Kablusiak was shortlisted for the Sobey Art Award in 2019; won a Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Award in 2020; and was shortlisted for the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award in 2021. They were also part of the all-Inuit curatorial team for the inaugural exhibition INUA at the WAG-Qaumajuq in 2021.
Kablusiak Plucked Ookpik (left) (2021) Felt, fibre fill and embroidery floss 14 x 8.9 x 14 cm; Furby Ookpik (right) (2021) Rabbit fur, felt, fibre fill and embroidery floss 14 x 14.6 x 11.4 cm courtesy norberg hall © the artist
Furby Ookpik (2021) and Plucked Ookpik (2021), as the two pieces on the mural are called, both appear in the IAQ’s Spring 2022 Break Up issue; Plucked Ookpik is cheekily displayed on the cover.
“Originally I made a small mock-up out of felt, sort of as a joke, and sent pictures of it to my parents,” Kablusiak says. “My mom was so grossed out and I thought it was so funny. So I thought, ‘Okay, this is good. I’m going to make a legit one now.’”
The end result is a comical, featherless ookpik in blush-pink felt and covered with tiny red spots. Of the inspiration behind Plucked Ookpik, Kablusiak says, “It’s just me being funny and crass. Who would think to pluck an owl?”
In contrast, Kablusiak also created the hot-pink longhaired Furby Ookpik, which is hanging out in Billy-Ray Bellcourt’s article on Kablusiak. These two creations speak to Kablusiak’s penchant for taking something iconic—what we have come to know or expect—and bending it into new ways of existence and expression.
Through their practice, Kablusiak continues to experiment with ideas around materiality and sexuality. Kablusiak says they are also exploring the intersection of being Inuk and being an artist, “and what the difference is between those two things and what connects them.”
How Kablusiak Subverts Inuit Art With Camp and Silliness