The Inuit Art Foundation is delighted to report that Iqaluit-born artist Couzyn van Heuvelen has been named to the 2018 Sobey Art Award longlist, Canada’s most prestigious award for young artists. The honour comes on the heels of several career milestones for the artist in recent years. “I’m very excited,” explained van Heuvelen when reached for comment. “It’s [something] that has been on my list of things I’d love to do, to get on the longlist. [But] it was kind of a far off goal. I didn’t think it would happen so soon.” Van Heuvelen is only the third Inuit artist to receive this honour.
A sculptor and installation artist, van Heuvelen’s practice focuses on fusing Inuit art history and traditions with contemporary materials and manufacturing technologies. His works are evocative of the historical roots of Inuit creativity and ingenuity while also subverting long-standing perceptions and expectations of what Inuit art might be. From miniature walrus skulls cast in silver to avataqs (seal floats) made of screen printed, silver foil balloons, van Heuvelen creates minimal, future-facing works that explore traditional influences on his everyday life. “Couzyn van Heuvelen’s sculptures are powerful emblems of resurgence and cultural continuance,” says Sobey Art Award nominator Catherine M. Hale, Director, Creative Campus Planning at Sheridan College. “[He] is uniquely positioned to engage Canadian audiences with rich histories and imaginative futures as one of our leading contemporary artists.”
The IAF began working with van Heuvelen in 2016, when he participated in iNuit Blanche, the world’s first circumpolar, all-night art festival in St. John’s, NL with an installation entitled Avataq installed at The Leyton Gallery of Fine Art, which was sponsored by the IAF. Shortly following this, he was featured as the Profile artist in the Winter 2016 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly. In 2017, van Heuvelen participated as the IAF’s featured artist at Art Toronto, Canada’s largest art fair. “[It] helped me reach a much bigger audience,” he explained about his experience at the fair. “It gave [people] a chance to see my work in person and also in the context of the Inuit Art Foundation. I felt so promoted [and] received so much attention.” Van Heuvelen has also been included in the fall anniversary issue of the IAQ, featured in the IAQ special issue “Collecting Inuit Art” and in Portfolio of the spring 2018 issue. Most recently van Heuvelen took over the IAF’s Instagram to share pictures from his textile and printmaking residency at the Jessie Oonark Centre in Qamani’tuaq (Baker Lake), NU.
“I think [the Inuit Art Foundation] is one of the best ways for Inuit artists to reach a wider audience,” explained van Heuvelen when speaking of his ongoing relationship with the IAF. “Especially [for those] artists who are making work primarily for a market, sometimes [their] work doesn’t see a wide audience unless it ends up in a gallery or a museum collection.” For van Heuvelen, the IAF has helped him create “direct opportunities to work as a full-time artist and get paid as an artist.”
Since completing his BFA at York University in Toronto, ON, and his MFA from NSCADU in Halifax, NS, van Heuvelen has been steadily gaining attention. His work has has been included in several exhibitions, including Insurgence/Resurgence at the Winnipeg Art Gallery, as well as an exhibition at the Art Gallery of Mississauga and an upcoming exhibition at the Art Gallery of Guelph. He has also been awarded two public art commissions. The first, created as part of the Lost Stories Project in 2017, is an aluminum sculpture of a qamutiik (dogsled) carrying baggage that commemorates the significance of the iconic Southway Inn in Ottawa as a waypoint for Inuit travelling from the Arctic for school, work and medical services. In addition, this past winter Sheridan College selected van Heuvelen as an artist in residence its Temporary Contemporary program. The resulting installation, Nitsiit (2018), features six large-scale fishing lures suspended two stories above a central community gathering space. The lures were constructed from childhood memories of fishing tools used in Iqaluit, NU, and are an amplification of his personal experiences as well as a celebration of cultural resilience. He is represented by Fazakas Gallery in Vancouver, BC.
The Inuit Art Foundation would like to extend our heartfelt congratulations to Couzyn on this important achievement!