Kablusiak at Esker Foundation, Calgary
By Maeve Hanna
Themes of nostalgia, displacement, and identity politics emerge in the work Qiniqtuaq by Inuvialuit artist Kablusiak currently on view at Esker Foundation’s Project Space. Translated from Inuvialuktun (dialect Sallimiutun), Qiniqtuaq means searching or looking. In the context of this piece and Kablusiak’s artistic practice in general, the act of looking and being looked at while simultaneously searching is brought to the fore. Looking, searching, and seeing are especially pertinent in regards to how Inuit can be the subject of an exoticized or voyeuristic gaze by settler Canadians, which speaks to challenges associated with negotiating Indigenous identity within Canadian society.
The Project Space is shrouded in a white sheet perforated with holes to resemble the classic Hallowe’en ghost costume. Crouching down low or standing on tip toes, the viewer strains to see what’s inside. The glimmering sight of classic TV shows flashes across a screen, semi-visible during the day, easier to see and beckoning at night. The negotiation between seeing what is on the other side of the space and straining to interpret what is visible through the ghostly eye holes poses an interesting jumping off point for interpreting Kablusiak’s understanding of their own identity and how settler Canadians can enter into this discussion. Hiding the space, while simultaneously making it slightly accessible, suggests the artist’s play on living in a colonizer’s society.
Humour is a trope that Kablusiak returns to frequently in their work. Bringing this aspect to Qiniqtuaq, the artist achieves the paradox of lighthearted play alongside an undercutting current of darkness. Reclaiming their own identity as an Inuvialuit and queer artist, they investigate their history and culture by opening a window for settlers and allies alike to achieve an understanding of what it means to be Indigenous. In the age of attempted reconciliation, works such as this are essential for every citizen of so-called Canada in our ongoing work in decolonizing land, education, and understandings of national and Indigenous identity.
Maeve Hanna is a writer and curator who holds a Bachelor of Fine Arts Honours in Visual Art and Literature from York University and the University of Leeds and a Master of Arts in Art History and Icelandic Studies from Université du Québec à Montréal and the University of Manitoba on location in Iceland. She has previously written for Black Flash, C Magazine, Canadian Art, esse arts + opinions, Frieze, Sculpture Magazine and the Senses and Society. She is Akimblog’s Calgary correspondent and can be followed on Instagram @maeve_hanna.