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A conversation with 2021 KAMA Award winner Tarralik Duffy, currently in-residence at WAG-Qaumajuq

Tarralik Duffy, winner of the Inuit Art Foundation’s Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award (KAMA) is in residence at WAG-Qaumajuq.

Duffy is the 2021 recipient of the biennial prize, and is at work running workshops, mentoring young artists, and creating new works – some of which will be on display this September in Tarralik Duffy: Gasoline Rainbows, opening September 22. Duffy is from Salliq (Coral Harbour), Nunavut, and currently resides in Saskatoon. We sat down with Duffy to chat about the award, her residency, and the upcoming exhibition.

Q: Hi Tarralik! Thanks for sitting down to talk with us. How are you feeling about your upcoming exhibition Gasoline Rainbows?

TD: I’m excited about it. I can become obsessive about the things I don’t like about a piece, so with exhibitions it’s a good practice of acceptance and moving forward. Mostly because you have no other choice. I remember I was hanging out with an elder from my hometown, a really amazing seamstress, and she told me that we imagine things in our minds but it’s up to our hands to accomplish that sometimes difficult task– it doesn’t always turn out how we envisioned it, but eventually your work will be as good as you imagine.  

In some ways it’s hard for me to think about the exhibition because I have a lot of work to do, but I’m getting there. I’m looking forward to everything being done and installed – that will be the best feeling.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’ve been working on?

TD: Right now, it’s an ode to everyday objects in Nunavut. It’s the things that are seared into my memory that are part of everyday life. Maybe people might not initially think of them that way, but if you’re from Nunavut, they’re instantly recognizable. I take objects that are nostalgic to me, like Carnation cans, Klik cans, pop cans, gas cans – I guess it’s a bunch of cans! I either draw them and turn them into prints or start sewing them so it’s something that I can hold in my hand. Sewing things by hand is slow and physically taxing, but that’s part of why I like it. Lately I’ve been obsessed with soft sculpture, I’ll take a 2D drawing that I’ve done and transform it into leather sculpture. 

Q: How are you enjoying working in the WAG-Qaumajuq studios? 

TD: The thing I like about it is its sort of like a job, whereas if I’m working from home, it’s definitely a less scheduled approach. When I’m at home I have no sense of time, so working in the studio gives me an idea of what I can accomplish in a certain set of hours. I enjoy it, and being surrounded by all the objects of Inuit art is wildly inspiring too and also a bit intimidating.  I miss home sometimes; it’s cozy in your own space, but having a studio space helps you stay focused in a different way.

Q: As part of the residency, you’re hosting some workshops – what will you be focusing on? 

TD: One of the things we’ll be making is sealskin fringe earrings – it’s a really fun thing to do. Within an hour or less you can have a pair of earrings done, and I can teach skills like wire wrapping loops that are good to have for any sort of jewelry making. 

For me it all started with pencil and paper, so with the kid’s workshops, I like to go back to the basics. Today we worked with stylized Inuit syllabics. Syllabics are fun to use in art because they’re a pairing of shapes and sounds. I like to incorporate our language into workshops because it’s something that the government tried to take away from us.

Q: Can you tell me a little bit about how you started with the soft sculptures and your art-making process? 

TD: I do quite a bit of thrift shopping, and I came across this huge pelt of beautiful thick red leather. I had no reason to want it, I had no plans for it, and I think I sat on it for years and years and years, until the Art Gallery of Guelph requested I do a soft sculpture for their Qautamaat exhibit. The  theme or prompt I was given was everyday objects in Nunavut, which ties into a lot of the work that I do anyway, but at first I had no idea what I wanted to make. There was also a green canoe to be installed along with the art…and when the due date was breathing down my neck, I suddenly remembered the red leather in the basement where all my sewing supplies are and I thought “red leather jerry cans”, it came to me. It was perfect, it was meant to be. 

That’s what started the leather obsession. It wasn’t on purpose; it was just something that I knew would eventually become something beautiful or useful, but I had no idea at the time. Just that I had to get it. I like to go about my life without making any real plans and things fall into place. I think it’s the best way, for me at least, I don’t recommend it. It’s just how I am wired. I feel that’s the only way to truly be inspired. I mean, you can be inspired in other ways, but if you want fresh ideas to come, you can’t already be full of things. 

That’s why I like walking out on the land and working with bones. You’re just sort of walking along and you find something to be inspired by. So, you’re finding it or maybe it’s finding you.


Tarralik Duffy: Gasoline Rainbows opens September 22 at WAG-Qaumajuq. Explore the shortlisted artists for the 2023 Kenojuak Ashevak Memorial Award in Anaanatta Unikkaangit: Our Mother’s Stories, on now at WAG-Qaumajuq. The 2023 KAMA Winner will be announced September 22 in a special celebration event. Learn more here.


One thought on "A conversation with 2021 KAMA Award winner Tarralik Duffy, currently in-residence at WAG-Qaumajuq"

Heather M. Beecroft says:

I really loved your Red Leather Jerry Cans at the AGG.
I hope to see you and or have a coffee with you in August at the WAG. I live in Guelph now but I lived and worked in Winnipeg for many years, especially at the WAG…in the shop and as the President of the Volunteers and on the Board of WAG. I still work with Inuit Art in Guelph and with Clients. Hope to see you when I visit the PEG Aug. 21- 28. Will you be at the WAG?
I am headed to the Arctic tomorrow as I work with Adventure Canada. Please let me know if you could join me for coffee when I am in Winnipeg.

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