Inuvialuk artist longlisted for Sobey contemporary art award

Kablusiak tackles cultural displacement and challenge ideas of contemporary indigeneity with humour.

Kablusiak tackles cultural displacement through art

Kablusiak is long listed for the 2019 Sobey Art Award. (Submitted by Elyse Bouvier)

Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak works in a wide range of mediums: a razor, cigarettes, a menstrual cup, pilot biscuits, and a sex toy carved out of soapstone; felt-stitched panels depicting a parka-clad person carrying groceries, and a person checking Facebook on the toilet. 

Kablusiak has been longlisted for the Sobey Art Award  the first Inuvialuk artist to be nominated for the prize. The award promotes the development of contemporary Canadian art.

The top prize winner takes home $100,000 and four finalists will receive $25,000. Several long listed artists will be chosen for international residencies. Five finalists will join a group exhibition this fall at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Past recipients of the award, created in 2001, include multidisciplinary artist Ursula Johnson and the late Cape Dorset artist, Annie Pootoogook

"Carrying in Groceries" by Kablusiak. (Submitted by Kablusiak)

The artist was born in Yellowknife but raised in Edmonton. Kablusiak's family comes from Tuktoyaktuk and Sachs Harbour. Kablusiak uses humour to address cultural displacement and reject dated ideas of contemporary Indigenous identity.

Their works include soapstone carvings, drawing, film, and felt-stitching. It challenges "fetishized" ideals of what Inuit art has to be, said Kablusiak. (Kablusiak uses they pronouns.)

Kablusiak said their work focuses on "cultural diaspora, of being an urban Inuk and thinking of all the other urban Indigenous folks who maybe don't see themselves represented in mainstream media and are looking for something to relate to." 

Kablusiak is working to reframe what displacement looks like. 

"I'm still trying to figure it out myself as to not frame it a sad-sack story of a cultureless person because that's definitely not the case," they said.

Kablusiak stitched “Looking at Facebook” as “tongue-in-cheek” subject matter for a Stockholm show curated by Joi T. Arcand. (Submitted by Kablusiak)

Takes cues from the North

Kablusiak's art takes cues from Northern art forms, but is "situated from a person who grew up in a major city with not that many Indigenous folks around." 

"It's important to acknowledge that sure, I'm diasporic, but people have been adjusted and people can thrive, wherever," they said.

Kablusiak said concepts of what is Inuit art are sometimes "dated."

"There is so much art history that is embedded in the art world of the exoticism and objectification of Inuit," they said.

Kablusiak said many artists are combating those ideas, including curator Heather Igloliorte, performance artist Laakkuluk Williamson-Bathory, filmmaker Asinnajaq and Alberta Rose Williams. 

The awards — and the top prize — will be announced Nov. 15 at the Art Gallery of Alberta.

Photographic print titled NorthMart, by Kablusiak. (Submitted by Kablusiak)