5 Perspectives on Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona’s Diverse Body of Work
Nunatsiaq | June 06, 2023
Jun 06, 2023
Rooted by a family of artists that informs her practice, 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award shortlister Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona has branched into many mediums and avenues of artistic output over the course of her career thus far. Often framed alongside the graphic style of her grandmother Victoria Mamnguqsualuk (1930–2016) and great-grandmother Jessie Oonark OC, RCA, (1906–1985) from Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU, Kabloona’s interpretation of their traditional Inuit stories and pursuit of her own style have resulted in something exquisitely detailed and inarguably new.
To better understand Kabloona’s body of work and the many different projects she has taken on, IAQ Associate Editor Jessica MacDonald reached out to five key people who have worked with the artist on unique projects to share their perspectives.
Gayle likes to keep it simple. She's all about making things with attention to detail and making them well. I first saw Gayle’s distinctive style on Instagram, and when I realized that she was in Ottawa we invited her to come use the printmaking equipment at SAW, where I was working.
It resonated with me that she was responding to her relatives’ work and making her own way in the path that her relatives walked. She was exposed to stories of Kiviuq, for example, that are very well known in her father's community and her grandmother's community of Qamani'tuaq. But she looks at them in a different light because of her own upbringing, her own context as a feminist. It's a different way to celebrate Inuit culture and at the same time reclaim some of the stories and the creative heritage that is in her family.
We brought Gayle down to the Art Gallery of Guelph in Ontario for a residency to create new work in response to her grandmother and great-grandmother's art in its collection. It was a wonderful moment to see her encountering those works, touching them and looking at the stitching. For the new wallhanging she created, she actually researched the kinds of embroidery stitches that Inuit in Baker Lake did and do, and incorporated them into her own work.
When it came time to submit nominations for the Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, I wanted to nominate somebody whose work I have supported and who I've worked with and who I see great things for in the future. Gayle totally goes her own way and does things in a very “Gayle” way; she's gotten into things that I didn't even think were a possibility in the art world. She's just a joy to work with.
Taqralik Partridge, who nominated Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award, is a writer, artist and curator originally from Kuujjuaq, Nunavik, QC, and now based in Ottawa. A former Editor-at-Large for the Inuit Art Quarterly and former Director of the Nordic Lab at SAW, she is the Associate Curator of Indigenous Art - Inuit Art Focus at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
I was introduced to Gayle’s work in spring 2021 by Jaelyn Terriak, a Carleton undergraduate student we hired through Inuit Futures in Arts Leadership: The Pilimmaksarniq / Pijariuqsarniq Project. Gayle was a featured artist in the Ottawamiut Artist Showcase, an Instagram campaign Jaelyn curated for Carleton University Art Gallery (CUAG).
I was so intrigued by what I saw, especially Gayle’s stippled hand-built ceramics (“#specklesforever” as @uyagaqi memorably commented on one of her Instagram posts). I was excited about her ethos of experimentation, vivid palette, bold graphical style across media and apparent fearlessness in learning and pursuing new artforms, like pottery, printmaking and large-scale textiles.
Later that year, I was thrilled to receive a gift of one of Gayle’s gorgeous and coveted Anguhadluq mugs, which are inspired by the work of the late, great Luke Anguhadluq. Long before I met Gayle, I thought of her often—when I had a cup of tea at home.
Named for her grandfather’s brother, Uyagaqi, Gayle says she uses her Inuktitut name in her work because he was “a strong-willed person with a formidable work ethic.” Once I met Gayle and invited her to participate in CUAG’s 30th-anniversary exhibition Drawing on Our History, I saw her kindness, openness, creativity, seriousness and work ethic in action. She embraced the open-ended opportunity to make new work for the exhibition, both drawings and ceramics, in which she addressed questions of identity and belonging. I love how fresh and distinct Gayle’s work is. She worked as an urban planner but left that field during the pandemic to pursue her art full-time. I really admire her courage; I wouldn’t be brave enough to do that! In a few short years she has developed an immediately recognizable aesthetic that is at once completely contemporary while beautifully referencing the superstar women artists in her family who came before her.
Sandra Dyck is Director of Carleton University Art Gallery in Ottawa, ON.
It is a rare occasion where something is new and yet it feels like it's been there all along, which is the tension I love with Gayle’s work. There isn't a lot of direct precedent for what she's doing, and yet it feels like it has this long history.
I came to learn about Gayle’s practice because of the exhibition that she had at the Art Gallery of Guelph—she had made a really beautiful duffel wool piece for that exhibition. I reached out to her over Instagram to learn more about her practice and see if she was interested in commissions, in this case for Canada Goose. When I'm looking for work, especially commissions, I’m looking for storytelling, how the artist is conveying something and ultimately the overall quality of the artwork. Her work was very compelling; it contained aspects of the familiar stylistic choices of traditional Inuit art and also a lot of the novel. It was obvious that she puts great care into the details.
For this commission the only set of parameters that we had was the size of the wall. Gayle seemed to immediately know that she wanted to do a representation of hands. She made a sketch for us, and the artwork came out very close to the initial vision. Part of the joy of working with her was that she was very decisive, but it’s really the tension with newness and history in her work that I find exciting.
Natalie MacNamara is the Principal Curator and Creative Director of NAMARA. Through NAMARA, she is the curator of Canada Goose’s Retail Art Collection, which is on view in accessible retail settings around the globe.
One of my colleagues at work mentioned Gayle when I was looking for an artist to take up residence on a Royal Navy research vessel that was coming to Canada as part of a tour, and when I looked up her work I found her style of work and her prints in particular fascinating.
She did an amazing job coming onboard the ship and producing artwork that reflected some of the communities and the places that the vessel was traveling through. Of the three works she produced, one of them is going to be on display at the British High Commission in Ottawa, ON, and the other one is on display in the British Consulate in Montreal, QC.
I was very lucky to go to her studio and see her create in person. What fascinated me is that every single piece, every single design, is incredibly unique. But the tools that she uses really haven't changed that much in generations from her ancestors. Her work speaks to Inuit culture, her heritage and her identity, but she also offers a modern and different way of looking at these subjects.
Tom Walsh is Head of Communications at the British High Commission in Ottawa, ON. He is a former journalist and a dual national of the UK and Canada.
I first encountered Gayle when I was looking for an artist to do some promotional artwork for The Breathing Hole at the National Arts Centre (NAC) in Ottawa, ON, and my coworker suggested her. Gayle's work is traditional and also contemporary; her perspective was really clear. I thought she would be an amazing artist to work with, and she was.
Gayle is really positive, open to making changes or suggestions. She really captured the essence of the central character, the polar bear, catching the spirit of the animal in the artwork, which is not easy to do.
We used her artwork on so many things, postering it around Ottawa and on a digital ad at the Rideau Centre. It was front and centre in the community in places where people live and work and walk by. Seeing her images of the polar bear and then mirroring that experience by seeing it on the stage was the complete package; it was a really full circle moment for me.
Jenna Spagnoli is a Marketing Strategist at the National Arts Centre, based in Ottawa, ON. She holds a Masters in Social Work from Carleton University.