‘Their work is still here even though they’re not’: Inuit artist celebrates family legacy


When Ottawa-based interdisciplinary artist Gale Uyagaki Kabrona was awarded a creative research residency at the Guelph art gallery, she eagerly explored the gallery’s collection for inspiration. ..

In the archive, she found something very close to her house.

“They have a huge collection of art from really famous people … and they also have the work of my great-grandmother Jesse Woonak and my grandmother Victoria Mamungkusark. “

Woonak was Inuit’s leading artist known for his original and colorful works. She died in 2016, and Mamung Kushark, whose work was exhibited at about 100 exhibitions in Canada and internationally, shared her love for Kabrona’s art from the beginning. was doing.

Cabrona usually works in prints and pottery, but after seeing one of her grandmother’s wall hangings in the art gallery of the Guelph collection, she was urged to embark on a tapestry project. (Submitted by Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona)

Kabrona remembers visiting Baker Lake in Nunavut many times as a child. There, the two spent time together.

“She was at home a lot and was working on the artwork,” said Cabrona. “If I ask her, she will make me a hoodie.

“She only spoke Inuktitut and I only spoke English, so I didn’t have a very deep conversation, but I spent a lot of time with her.”

Cabrona remembers that her grandmother’s art was “everywhere in the house”, piled up on the freezer, and how enthusiastic about sharing it.

However, Cabrona didn’t expect her family’s work to be found in the Guelph art gallery, so she was happy to rediscover the prints, sketchbooks, and wall hangings that would have been donated to the gallery by collectors.

“It was amazing,” she said. “It was great. Lots of works, I’ve never seen before.

Jesse Woonak’s “female” from 1970. Stone cut on paper. Woonak was Inuit’s leading artist known for her original and colorful works. (Courtesy: Ernest Mayer / Winnipeg Art Gallery)

“There was a really big piece of work in which a half-caribou woman was completely embroidered. It was probably 6 feet x 6 feet. That was great.”

In her art practice, Kabrona was already working on a piece exploring the creative heritage of her family, so finding this unexpected collection was a moving experience.

“Even though they aren’t there, seeing their work still here allows them to see what they’re doing and create new pieces, which is really important to their heritage. “She said.

As part of Cabrona’s Residency, she is creating a new work for her next exhibition, Qautamaat, to be held at the gallery on April 7, 2022.

Curated by Taqralik Partridge, “Quatamaat” features contemporary Inuit art along with old works from the gallery’s collection.

Taqralik Partridge curates the exhibition “Quatamaat” at the Guelph Art Gallery. (Submitted from Taqralik Partridge)

“Inuit are famous as artists,” said Partridge, who grew up in Kuujjuaq, Que. “Canada’s Inuit art is historically well-known — and there’s a lot behind the story.

“But part of that is the fact that our culture, the Inuit culture, encourages everyone to practice creatively and make things.”

In addition to being a curator, Partridge is a poet, performer and writer whose work focuses on life in the north and the Inuit experience in the city center of the south.

Partridge says it’s “really special” to reunite Cabrona with family artwork and see how it affected her.

“It was an exciting opportunity to add Gale to the collection, see the work of her relatives, and create works according to their work,” she said.

“I wanted to challenge myself”

Cabrona usually works in printed matter and pottery, but after seeing this collection of her family’s artwork, she chose to undertake a tapestry project for her next exhibition.

“I wanted to challenge myself,” said Cabrona. “I wanted to work a little more traditional. I wanted to try what my grandmother did a lot. It’s a great opportunity to have the time and space to focus on one big piece.”

Interdisciplinary artist Gale Uyagaki Kabrona has a creative residence in the Guelph art gallery. The gallery archive contains the works of her grandmother and great-grandmother that Cabrona saw for the first time during her stay. (Catherine Takpany)

In the Cabrona tapestry, she revisits the story of a fox wife about a fox marrying a human man.

“As an adult, looking back at all of these stories that shaped my childhood, I realized that almost all of them had some sense of violence against women,” Kabrona said. “And I wanted to create art that reflects my thoughts and views on gender equality and the importance of women in life, rather than these violent acts.”

Kabrona’s fox wife chose to quit her marriage rather than being kicked out, so she became independent and her husband respected her decision.

Partridge says Cabrona’s decision to tell a new version of the story is particularly exciting as part of a cross-generational exhibit.

“It’s a really special approach she’s taking,” Partridge said. “Inuit stories and Inuit culture are not static, and young people are turning Inuit stories, Inuit stories, and Inuit art in all sorts of amazing directions.”


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