Inuvialuk artist Maureen Gruben longlisted for Sobey Art Award

Inuvialuk artist Maureen Gruben, from Tuktoyaktuk, has been longlisted for the 2021 Sobey Art Award.

The award, considered among the most prestigious in Canadian art, is presented each year by the National Art Gallery of Canada and Sobey Art Foundation to recognize the work of contemporary artists.

Twenty-five artists from across the country have been picked for the longlist. The selection will be narrowed to five finalists before the overall winner is announced in the fall.


“I’m still in awe,” Gruben said of learning she had been chosen for the longlist.

“If you look at the longlist, you’re going to see some incredible artists. Just to be in their company really means a lot, to be recognized and supported by those that dedicate their lives to supporting art. It’s really a deep affirmation of my practice.”

Gruben has been a multi-disciplinary visual artist for nearly a decade.

One of Gruben’s pieces, “Moving with joy across the ice as my face turns brown from the sun,” showcases sleds crafted by Tuktoyaktuk residents. Photo: Kyra Kordoski

She graduated from the University of Victoria with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in 2012 and has since had her work exhibited throughout North America, including ongoing displays at both the Herbert F Johnson Museum of Art in Ithaca, New York, and the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.

Gruben’s work draws on her Inuvialuit heritage and the Arctic landscape of her home community.


“In the back of my mind, our Inuvialuit culture is always present,” she explained. “When I work, I’m thinking about our land, I’m thinking about our people, and I’m thinking about things that mean a lot to the preservation and promotion of our subsistence lifestyle.”

Gruben’s pieces mix artificial and natural materials – polar bear bones encased in resin, sealskin mounted on insulation, moosehide stitched together with zip ties and bubble wrap.

“It’s mostly about aesthetics for me,” Gruben said. “I look at materials and I’m not bound to one material. I like to mix it up, whatever works together. Like the bubble wrap with the moosehide and reflective bands: when you look at it aesthetically, they really fit.”

Gruben was recently gifted three polar bear rugs from the Museum of Anthropology in Vancouver and has used them to fashion a display on ice that she calls her “ice gallery.”


One of Gruben’s most recent pieces, “Aidainnaqduammi,” meaning “We are finally home” in Inuvialuktun. Photo: Kyra Kordoski

Gruben receives $10,000 for her inclusion on the award’s longlist.

She next plans to host an artist-in-residency program from Hunter’s B&B in Tuktoyaktuk, which she runs. That project has been delayed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I had artists scheduled and confirmed to come,” she said. “That was going to be super exciting, but we’ll just have to be patient and wait for that to happen at a later date.”