Two weeks after unveiling a massive sculpture by Goota Ashoona, the WAG-Qaumajuq has taken the cover off yet another piece of public art in front of their new building. Sculptor Abraham Anghik Ruben’s Time to Play sits just yards away from Ashoona’s sculpture at the corner of St. Mary Avenue and Memorial Boulevard in downtown Winnipeg, and will welcome visitors to Qaumajuq’s outdoor plaza, Nutaaq Tummaqtuyuq. The only Inuit art museum in North America, Qaumajuq is slated to open at the Winnipeg Art Gallery in 2021.
Carved from Indiana limestone, Ruben’s sculpture features a family of polar bears climbing over one another. “The polar bear is the largest bear in the world. It is a symbol of strength and endurance, traits that Manitobans strive to emulate,” said Tannis M. Richardson, who funded the statue’s creation, in a press statement.
Originally from Paulatuk, Inuvialuit Settlement Region, NT, but now residing on Salt Spring Island in BC, Ruben has been creating since 1971. Although he pursued a wide variety of mediums through the 1970s, such as jewellery, prints and drawings, he is best known for sculpture, particularly his work with stone and bronze. He received the Order of Canada in 2016 for his artistic contributions and work preserving Inuvialuit culture.
Ruben stands with the status in his workshop.
Ruben has worked on large-scale public art before—both the University of Manitoba and downtown Vancouver host his sculptures—but this statue is one of the largest stone pieces he has ever created, and took multiple years to complete.
WAG Director and CEO Stephen Borys, who took multiple trips to Ruben’s studio on Salt Spring Island to observe the work in progress, described the excitement he felt watching the piece come together. The “most exhilarating [part] about this whole commission was listening to Abraham’s stories about the bear, the land, and Inuit legends,” he said in a press statement.
The presence of Ruben’s sculpture in front of the WAG is part of a long history of showcasing the sculptor. In addition to the more than 30 pieces of Ruben’s work housed in the WAG’s collection, the museum has previously played host to group exhibitions featuring his work, including a dual exhibition focusing on Ruben and his brother, David Ruben Piqtoukun, in 1989. In 2001, the WAG hosted Ruben’s first solo exhibition in a museum setting.
In 2022 the WAG is expected to hold another solo exhibition exploring Ruben’s own Inuvialuit culture and his more recent studies of the history and oral culture of Nordic peoples, including Vikings.