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Pandemic launches art career

Baker Lake artist designs new Canada Post stamp
Four new stamps from Canada Post serve to bring awareness to the history of residential schools. Baker Lake artist Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona designed the one in the top right. Photo courtesy of Canada Post

For many, the pandemic shut down or at least interrupted normal life. But for some, like Baker Lake artist Gayle Uyagaqi Kabloona, it sparked change and new direction.

Kabloona is originally from Baker Lake but grew up in the south. As an adult she moved to Nunavut and lived in Iqaluit for seven years working a variety of roles for government and Inuit organizations.

“I enjoyed making things and I liked doing art but it didn’t really seem like a good career option as a young person,” she said.

“But then during the pandemic I decided to give it a go because I was really unhappy in what I was doing at the time, and it’s taken off really quickly actually. I didn’t expect to get so well-known in only a few years.”

One of her early successes was designing ‘thinking of you’ cards that people could send to loved ones when lockdowns meant travel and meeting in person weren’t possible.

She learned quickly that people wanted her art in their homes and to give as gifts. She has since turned her passion into a full-time career, with some large partnerships like a new stamp collection from Canada Post and creating wallpapers for Google Pixel.

Released in time for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, four new stamps – including a design by Kabloona – are the first in an annual series showcasing the visions of First Nations, Inuit and Metis artists in the context of truth and reconciliation.

“I believe each group within Canada has a different responsibility for reconciliation,” said Kabloona about the initiative.

“For Indigenous People, our responsibility is to ourselves and to others within our communities — learning or passing on our language and culture that was attacked only one generation ago. I created a woman lighting a qulliq, the traditional Inuit stone lamp used for heat and light to signify caretaking. This woman is carrying on in her culture as she has always done, taking care of herself and others and healing.”

Next on Kabloona’s list is a piece she’s working on for Carleton University. The artist encourages young people to put their work out there.

“I would say just keep doing it and don’t be afraid to put it out in the world,” said Kabloona when asked about advice for young artists.