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Tarralik Duffy Opens Pop Art Mural at OnSite Gallery

Sep 23, 2023
by IAQ

This week in September, Up Front: Inuit Public Art at Onsite Gallery continues its two-year run of public digital art murals with a pop. For its fourth instalment, the Inuit Art Foundation (IAF) and the Ontario College of Art And Design University’s OnSite Gallery reveal Fresh Pop (2023)—a 10-ft digital art piece by Tarralik Duffy consisting of bold, bright soda cans emblazoned with syllabics, continuing Duffy’s ongoing examination of shelf-ready snack foods and their relationship to everyday Inuit life. The mural is on view on the outside wall of OnSite Gallery, at Richmond Street West in downtown Toronto. Duffy will be in town to launch the mural for Nuit Blanche, the city's all-night art festival, on September 23 from 7–11 p.m.

Duffy is a multidisciplinary artist who lives and works between Salliq, NU, and Saskatoon, SK. Her work is inspired by the plentiful, popular objects that fill her memories of northern life. Her work challenges the viewer to consider the prevalence of these items—often pre-packaged, commercially manufactured goods—and their role among Inuit communities.

Duffy’s refreshing pop art has already earned her plenty of recognition: she is the 2021 winner of the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award and presented solo exhibitions at SAW Nordic Lab in 2022 and the Art Gallery of Ontario in 2023. Her third solo show, Gasoline Rainbows, opened at the Winnipeg Art Gallery on September 22. She is also the Inuit Art Quarterly’s cover artist for the newly released Fall 2023 Multiples issue. 

Fresh Pop expands on Duffy’s penchant for recontextualizing the foodstuff of her childhood. Her depictions of products that populated her local Quickstop, a northern convenience store chain, are the basis of her solo show, Let’s Go Quickstop (2023), currently on display at the Art Gallery of Ontario in Toronto. As commodities with long shelf lives, foods like chips, chocolate and canned meats are abundant in Northern grocery aisles. In Fresh Pop Duffy forgoes the crunchy and chewable to focus solely on soda pop, which she calls the “black gold” of the North: “Pop was the ‘black gold’ of the North, and if you’re from Nunavut, you know there’s such a thing as ‘fresh pop,’” she says. “If a pop has been sitting too long since the last sealift, it starts to lose its freshness.” 


With Fresh Pop, visitors along Richmond Street West will be treated to an enchanting arrangement of pop cans, whose vibrant colours and playful demeanor make them appear to be dancing out of a child’s dream. The syllabics marked on each can—Pipsi, Kuuka Kuula—signify a regular theme in Duffy’s work of reimagining Inuit culture as a mainstream identity. The use of repetitive images recalls the way Duffy would encounter these products in her youth: “Part of my everyday life as a child was going to the store. You would never see just one of anything—they would be arranged together, repeating over and over on the shelves.”

Through the mural, Duffy’s Fresh Pop will achieve a size and scale somewhere between a subway platform poster and a billboard advertisement, finally rendering her pops at a scale just as physically inescapable as those in mainstream media outlets, while simultaneously celebrating and honouring her memories of home in the North. “My inspiration comes from a need to blow kisses back to Nunavut,” she says.

The collaboration between IAF and OnSite Gallery, curated by Ryan Rice, Onsite’s Executive Director and Curator, Indigenous Art, opened with multidisciplinary artist Kablusiak’s delightful pink oopiks, who nested in the mural space from April to November 2022. Visual artist Kyle Natkusiak Aleekuk’s unique, Inuit-inspired tattoo art adorned the wall from November 2022 to March 2023. Most recently, Robert Kautuk’s sky-high photography turned the site into an aerial viewfinder, peering into Cape Christian, NU, from March to September 2023. Duffy’s mural will be on display at OnSite Gallery until December 2023.


Up Front is made possible with the support from the City of Toronto’s Indigenous Arts and Culture Partnership Fund and the Toronto Friends of the Visual Arts.


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