“Beyond Aurora Borealis”

Art based on oral tradition, myths and legends

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Abraham at his studio. © Lou Ruffolo

Abraham Anghik Rruben is a contemporary artist of Inuvialuit ancestry. His work is unique in how it embodies his cultural heritage within the nuances of his contemporary world. As a sculptor, Ruben’s work is unparalleled in Canada, in scale and eloquence in communicating his artistic message: an interpretation focused on the oral tradition of stories, myths and legends that were shared with him by his parents and elders from paulatuk.

Ruben’s search into the past for an authentic Inuit identity has led him to the inevitable encounter with the Viking Norse and native inhabitants of Iceland and Greenland; an element that has had a profound influence on his work and inspired the domino effect of sculptures that have changed the landscape of Inuit and Canadian art. Hence, his adamant and compelling insistence to be recognized as a legitimate, Canadian contemporary artist, of Inuit ancestry. An appellative that the Canadian art world has to reconcile and move away from is the premise that people from the North, artistically speaking, can only envisage hunters, marine mammals such as narwhal, walrus and seal, Arctic birds and/or conventional portrayals of Inuit women with children in parkas.

Thor’s Story Brazilian Soapstone 100.0 x 77.6 x 51.0 cm, #0063, 2009 photographed by Silvio Calcagno
Thor’s Story Brazilian Soapstone 100.0 x 77.6 x 51.0 cm, #0063, 2009 photographed by Silvio Calcagno

This exhibition consists of 24 sculptures dating from 2009 to 2015. The selected works are from the Kipling Gallery Collection as well as from private and corporate collectors. When viewing these works the viewer can appreciate and experience the complexity of each composition and the artistic dexterity required to render the intricacies and nuances of the artwork.

Ruben is an artist constantly challenging himself to further develop his special techniques to create even more interesting compositions. His quest explores new ways to interpret the many stories, myths and legends of the past by pushing the boundaries of his compositions with shapes and sizes that illustrate a sophisticated understanding of engineering and visual effect. This is evident in Ancient Evenings Under the Northern Lights. In this work, Ruben has incorporated metal rods in order to give the stone the required structural integrity to create the composition that he envisioned.

The artist constantly faces the challenges of finding new ways to interpret the ideas that become a revolving door in his mind and thus become very intimate and personal. And this intimate and personal approach in Ruben’s art finds common ground in the stone presentation.

Ruben has pushed the envelope to new heights, creating new masterful works specifically for this exhibition, such as The Tree of Life, constructed of multiple pieces of stone. This work is designed as a wall piece, as Ruben has defined it. This is one of three bas-reliefs presented in this exhibition, and they are an indication that Ruben enjoys the freedom to express himself through his craft and is always moving forward without hesitation or inhibition of his interpretation.

Talented and open to explore the intricacies of sculpting, Ruben sometimes relies on the formal training he received at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, to convey his ideas first through preliminary sketches and drawings and then to execute them, as is the case with this series of bas-reliefs. In fact, this is the first exhibition in which one of his working drawings will be published.

Tree of Life Brazilian Soapstone, Marine Plywood and Steel 152.4 x 243.84cm, #0391, 2015 photographed by Daniel Dabrowski
Tree of Life Brazilian Soapstone, Marine Plywood and Steel 152.4 x 243.84cm, #0391, 2015 photographed by Daniel Dabrowski

The decision to publish Ruben’s working drawings is intended to dispel any misunderstanding by acknowledging his formal training and to confirm that great art does not materialize out of nowhere. out of nothing, nothing will come (Ex nihilo nihil fit), so runs the Latin adage. This artist’s accomplishments are the fruits of his intensive and unrelenting love for his art and his calling.

I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Cosimo stifani who gave of his time to write the essay for this exhibition and also for the enumerable hours we spent in deep discussion on the naming of the “Aurora Borealis” exhibition, taking place at The prince of Wales Heritage Centre, in Yellowknife, Northwest Territories, until April 30, 2016, and the title of this exhibition, “Beyond Aurora Borealis,” taking place at the Museum of Inuit Art (MIA) until May 21, 2016.

The Webster dictionary defines beyond as a degree or amount of surpassing; something that is beyond; something that lies outside the scope of ordinary experience.

Ruben has the ability to go beyond what is thought of as being conventional, to conceive and create images, incorporate forms, volumes, perspectives and abstractions of the ideas that freely flow from his mind to stone: “Beyond Aurora Borealis”.

Rocco Pannese