Alvin Balkind Gallery
Land is fundamental to the work of Tuktoyaktuk-based artist Maureen Gruben. Often drawing on the intimacy of the handmade, Gruben’s work balances the vastness of tundra with the scales at which its inhabitants live with it. Engaging traditional materials, techniques and knowledge alongside the detritus of modern life, Gruben places global ecological crisis in conversation with local Inuvialuit ingenuity, exploring the persistence of this ingenuity from past to present to future.
The land that used to be features the new installation Qikuryuaq (Clay Hills), comprised of approximately 1,000 clay beads prepared by Gruben with the help of family and community members. The number of beads corresponds to Tuktoyaktuk’s population, while the clay they are made from, sourced from nearby shores, alludes to the material erosion of its shorelines, which has reached a state of emergency and within thirty years will necessitate the relocation of Tuktoyaktuk’s community inland. Qikuryuaq is accompanied in the exhibition by two works depicting handmade sleds. These sleds have an intimate relationship to land, touching its contours as they effect passage. As they evoke movement across and around the territory, including the potential inland migration, they also echo the aspiration of Qikuryuaq to, in the artist’s words, “hold the land a little bit longer before it is gone.”
Maureen Gruben’s diverse multi-media practice incorporates organic and industrial materials that are frequently found or salvaged. She was born and raised in Tuktoyaktuk, where her parents were traditional Inuvialuk knowledge keepers and founders of E. Gruben’s Transport. Gruben holds a BFA from the University of Victoria and a Certificate in Indigenous Political Development & Leadership, En’owkin Centre, Penticton. Recent exhibitions include presentations at Museu de Arte de São Paulo; Cooper Cole Gallery, Toronto; National Nordic Museum, Seattle; and Women’s Gallery & Darkroom, New York. She was shortlisted for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award and longlisted for the 2019 Aesthetica Art Prize and the 2021 Sobey Art Award. Her work is held in public and private collections including the Art Gallery of Ontario, the National Gallery of Canada, Vancouver Art Gallery, and the Indigenous Art Centre, Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs Canada.