Multidisciplinary artist and filmmaker Gabriel Nuraki Koperqualuk has spent his career connecting to his Nunavimmiut identity while living and producing art in an urban centre. “What does it mean to be an Inuk?” he asks me over the phone from his home in Montreal, QC. “I try to integrate that into my work as much as possible.” Koperqualuk is known for co-directing 2018’s The 5th Region, a documentary that explores what it means to be among the 30 per cent of Inuit now living in the South as an emerging “fifth region” of Inuit Nunangat. The film focuses on the lives and careers of artist Niap (Nancy Saunders) and educator and community organizer Joshua Stribbell, detailing their experiences with community, belonging and identity formation in the city. By day, Koperqualuk is a journalist for the radio program Nipivut, and notes that his role has given him the opportunity to connect with and interview artists, musicians and politicians that have since influenced his own practice.
Trained in commercial photography at Dawson College, Koperqualuk now explores other avenues of image-making by transforming photographs into shifting, geometric and psychedelic worlds in the experimental series that populate his social media accounts. Using his own images as well as archival photographs of the Arctic, the artist sees his work as a contemporary nod to the adaptability of traditional ways of life. “In my digital work I’m taking a photograph and transforming it into some-thing completely new,” Koperqualuk says of these stills and animations. “To me, it resonates with our traditional way of being in the North—taking what we have in front of us and using it in our own creative ways to help us survive.”
– Emily Henderson
Emily Henderson: Can you tell me a bit about your process in making the documentary film The 5th Region (2018)?
Gabriel Nuraki Koperqualuk: The 5th Region was a little complicated as it was my first major film project and I had only done small independent projects previously. We got funding from Mobilizing Inuit Cultural Heritage (MICH) for it. I was working here in Montreal, QC, and I had to collaborate over email with my co-director Aeyliya Husain who was based in Toronto, ON. Aeyliya was able to mentor me on a lot of things, such as how to be a producer and how to be a director. We spent a lot of time talking back and forth about what would work and what would be great for the film. I think the documentary really reflects this new energy that’s happening today—this new “urban Inuit” identity. I think it’s exciting. I think people have reacted in a way where they seem to appreciate, and sort of empathize, with Niap and Joshua Stribbell’s stories of the challenges of growing up not really knowing who you are or what your cultural connection is. And, while facing a lot racism along the way. I was really creating it for myself and other Inuit in the city, but people from across regions and different age groups all really enjoyed it when it was screened at ImagineNATIVE Film + Media Arts Festival. I was very surprised, and pleased, by that.
EH: You also produce digital art. Can you discuss that practice?
GK: Digital work, like graphic design like abstract art design, has always been a calling for me; a necessity almost. I love exploring the simplicity of it. I have a very short attention span and digital work allows me to work very quickly and I can save it and work on it later. I can work on ten different versions of something at the same time if I wanted to. But I mainly see it as an exploration of who I am and as a way to ask myself questions. I’m striving to obtain a spiritual connection, or sometimes just trying to express ideas that I have in my mind that I find to be strange.
I’m also interested in just creating these psychedelic worlds where viewers are disoriented in space, like in a higher dimension or a spiritual world. I think the concept of the mandala has been a big influence, as well as kaleidoscopic images. I actually graduated from the Commercial Photography program at Dawson College in Montreal, QC, and I often alter my own images to create these artworks. My process involves taking a photo and transforming it into something completely new, which resonates with our traditional way of living by taking what we have in front of us and using it in our own creative ways to help us survive. I really enjoy digital art in general when it comes to film, images and abstract art. I’d like to see if there are other Inuit artists interested in this medium. It’s kind of a funny thing when it comes to digital art, because there’s this tension between more traditional Inuit art and contemporary and emerging forms of Inuit art. But I’m seeing these ideas slowly being broken, which is interesting to me because I really enjoy the digital world and I’d like to explore it a lot more.
EH: Who or what would you consider to be your major creative influences?
GK: I think my major influence is my Inuit heritage and any creative Inuk I encounter. I think every Inuk is creative in their own way and I find there’s this energy about all of us that’s unique to each individual, but it’s something we all share collectively as Inuit. I can feel it there and I think a lot of that energy has inspired me to express myself. I’m always asking: what does it mean to be an Inuk?”I try to integrate that question into my work as much as possible.
I am also interested in the work of Jobie Weetaluktuk, and I’ve seen a couple of his films before on subjects related to what it means to be an urban Inuk. My broadcasting experience with Nipivut Radio has been also been strong influence on me and I’ve been working with them for about a year now. My work has allowed me to interview and produce Inuit content from all over, from all regions, from people just on the street to people that are political leaders, artists and musicians. All these Inuit that I meet have influenced who I am as an Inuk and helped me reconnect to my roots. Recently, I had the opportunity to interview Shuvinai Ashoona, RCA who is an amazing artist and printmaker from Kinngait (Cape Dorset), NU. It really nice to be able to do sit down with her as it felt like we were just hanging out and talking.
EH: What role do social media channels play in your work and the development of your practice?
GK: I post a lot, and I really enjoy Instagram because there’s so many people who use it. It’s very popular and easy, accessible and you can upload it right away. What I enjoy really about using social is sharing my art with other people and hoping they feel something similar to what I am feeling. For example, I’ll occasionally post something that, though I worked on it for white a while, I am not particularly happy with it. Then, all of a sudden, people will start responding, commenting and sharing the work. This makes me think to myself “wow, okay I can just continue creating, I can just create.” As an artist, I think it happens a lot where you get stuck or you see your own work a little too much and you feel like its stagnating. For myself, Instagram and Facebook have allowed me to just share things I make, and appreciate when people comment and give feedback.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity
This Profile appeared in the Summer 2019 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.