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Sobey Award winner Kablusiak.Handout

The Inuvialuk artist Kablusiak has won the $100,000 Sobey Art Award for excellence in contemporary art in Canada. It was second time lucky for the Yellowknife-born multimedia artist, who was also a finalist in 2019.

The announcement was made Saturday in Ottawa at the National Gallery of Canada, where, prophetically and cheekily, one of Kablusiak’s pieces showing is a stone carving of a kneeling figure with dollar signs attached. It is entitled TY Again Mr. Sobey.

“Winning this award is a dream, and being among amazing peers makes this award especially special,” Kablusiak said.

The other shortlisted artists – Gabrielle L’Hirondelle Hill, Michèle Pearson Clark, Anahita Norouzi, Séamus Gallagher – each receive $25,000. Their work is also part of the Sobey exhibition at the National Gallery.

Kablusiak’s pieces include Red Ookpik, a furry work of dyed sealskin, felt and fibrefill that represents the plush, wide-eyed owl Ookpik, first created by Inuit artist Jeannie Snowball in the early 1960s. Kablusiak’s Surprise Bag/Party City (where you belong) is comprised of soapstone candies, stickers, temporary tattoos, a keychain and an archivally printed bag.

Speaking with Inuit Art Quarterly recently, Kablusiak said, “If I’m going to be sad about colonialism and make art about it, I either want it to be so [absurd] that it sets people off or have it open enough that people can relate to it.”

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Nuyaq I and Nuyaq II, 2021, 1: artist's mother’s hair | hide uppers, artificial sinew + gifted crushed velvet 2: artist's hair | hide uppers, artificial sinew + gifted crushed velvet 1: 5.5 x 3.25 in 2: 5.5 x 3.25 in.Philip Kanwischer courtesy of Norberg Hall/Handout

According to the Sobey Art Foundation, Kablusiak’s art, though imbued with humour, explores community ties within the Inuit diaspora and the impact of colonization on Inuit expressions of gender and sexuality and on health and well-being.

“The 2023 Sobey Art Award jury felt compelled by Kablusiak’s fearless and unapologetic practice that confounds old categories and art histories and points to new imaginaries,” said the National Gallery’s Jonathan Shaughnessy, jury chair.

The jury, which judged the finalists on their careers to date, was comprised of Matthew Hyland, Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery; Haema Sivanesan, Alberta’s Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity; Wanda Nanibush, Art Gallery of Ontario, Eve-Lyne Beaudry, Musée national des beaux-arts du Québec; Pamela Edmonds, Dalhousie Art Gallery; and Cecilia Alemani, New York’s High Line Art.

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Red Ookpik, 2020, Dyed seal skin, felt, fibre fill, embroidery floss, leather, 6.5 x 3.75 x 3.75 in.Philip Kanwischer courtesy of Norberg Hall/Handout

The Sobey Art Award is among the richest visual arts prizes in the world and one of the most generous cultural prizes in Canada. It was originally set up in 2001 to honour and encourage up-and-coming artists under the age of 40 whose work had been shown in Canadian galleries. In 2021, the age limit was removed.

Kablusiak’s work is found in the collections of the Indigenous Art Centre, the Art Gallery of Alberta, the Alberta Foundation for the Arts, Walter Phillips Gallery, the Image Centre and the Art Gallery of Ontario.

The Sobey Art Award exhibition continues at the National Gallery of Canada in Ottawa until March 3, 2024.

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