This past January 21st the Art Gallery of Ontario
(AGO) opened the exhibition "Radical Remembrance" Inuvialuit sculptor David Ruben Piqtoukuns ᑎᕕᑎ ᐱᑐᑯ ᕈᐱᐃᓐ first major AGO solo exhibition. Recipient of a Governor Generals Award for Visual and Media Arts in 2022, this career-spanning exhibition showcases new artworks, alongside visitor favourites from the Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection at the AGO, to reveal the artists material inventiveness, humour and narrative power. Reclaiming through his art the oral histories stolen from him during his years in residential school, Radical Remembrance will be on view through June 25, 2023, in the AGOs Philip B. Lind Gallery on Level 1.
Born in 1950 in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, in what is now the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Piqtoukun lives and works in Southern Ontario. His works range in scale and material - from intimate figures to three meter installations, incorporating steel, stone, whale bone, Italian alabaster, computer parts and Brazilian soapstone. Part of the first generation of Inuvialuit sculptors to work in the South, he is celebrated for his ability to give expression to stories and characters from Inuvialuit oral history.
Curated by Wanda Nanibush, AGO Curator of Indigenous Art, the exhibition is, she says, beautiful, but with a sense of precariousness. There is very real, raw emotion in these works, created by an artist seeking to reclaim what was stolen from him. In his new works made specifically for this exhibition we see his ongoing innovation, as he challenges expectations and explores new materials, while continuing to resurface deep knowledge. Shamans can fly yes, but in Piqtoukuns world, they take a plane.
Organized poetically, Piqtoukuns figures are assembled as if in conversation; the behatted stone figure of Queen Elizabeth (c.1998) looks on as a sly Raven Steals the Moon (2022), and the Seven Faces of Death (1995) grimly confronts a three-meter blue whale rib carved into a Baby Brontosaurus (2022).
Permeating Piqtuokuns work is the Inuit concept of Inua, a belief in the spiritual force that imbues all things, says Nanibush. Entering the exhibition, no matter what the creature be it human, muskox, Shaman, or the endangered right whale its clear they are all part of a complex and interwoven spiritual ecosystem, the balance of which, is dependent on reciprocity.