N.W.T.-born carver David Ruben Piqtoukun has won a 2022 Governor General’s Artistic Achievement Award.
“[I am] pleasantly surprised to receive an award for something [I] really enjoy doing,” said Piqtoukun. “It’s like a dream come true.”
Piqtoukun is one of nine people to receive the 2022 Governor General’s Awards in Visual and Media Arts for their “exceptional careers and their remarkable contribution to the media arts and fine crafts.”
Piqtoukun was born in Paulatuk, N.W.T., and lived a traditional lifestyle with his family until he was taken away to residential school. He attended schools in Aklavik and Inuvik, which he said taught him to forget everything about his culture — most regrettably, his language.
He moved south to get away from the experience, living in Vancouver, Calgary and Toronto. He started carving in 1972, and said it took him at least five years to learn the basics.
“I never gave up,” he said.
Piqtoukun captures Inuvialuit stories and folklore in carvings made of stone, bone and wood. He’s also worked with Brazilian soapstone, Italian alabaster, marble, steel and bronze.
“I select stories from the Elders, my parents,” he said, from his home in Plainfield, Ont. “When I hear a story I close my eyes and all these images start jumping at me.”
Despite a cancer diagnosis last year, Piqtoukun remains a full-time carver and said his strength is returning. He’s currently working towards three exhibitions: one for Rideau Hall, the Governor General’s residence; one at the National Gallery of Canada; and a planned 50-year retrospective of his work next year at the Art Gallery of Ontario.
The Indigenous film group Bawaadan Collective was selected to make a short film about Piqtoukun as part of the award.
WATCH | Portrait of David Ruben Piqtoukun, 2022, by Bawaadan Collective
Anishnaabe-Cree co-founder Yuma Hester said his goal is to release a longer documentary on the artist.
“He shares some fantastic stories from folklore,” Hester said.
“I love that there’s a lot of focus on him now, he’s one of the biggest Indigenous artists in Canada,” he said. “It’s very much well deserved attention.”
The award comes with a $25,000 prize and a bronze medallion.
Judi Michelle Young, president of the Sculptors Society of Canada and director of the Canadian Sculpture Centre, nominated Piqtoukun for the award.
“In exploring the human condition, his work speaks of and to people’s resilience,” she said in a news release.
“Through his work, Piqtoukun inspires, mentoring the younger generation with poignant narratives.”