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Inuvialuit oral histories come to life when Radical Remembrance: The Sculptures of David Ruben Piqtoukun opens January 21 at the AGO

  • Major solo exhibition spans five decades and features new and recent artworks
  • Meet the artist at a free opening celebration on Wednesday, January 25

Opening January 21 at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO), Radical Remembrance is Inuvialuit sculptor David Ruben Piqtoukun’s ᑎᕕᑎ ᐱᑐᑯ ᕈᐱᐃᓐ  first major AGO solo exhibition. Recipient of a Governor General’s Award for Visual and Media Arts in 2022, this career-spanning exhibition showcases new artworks, alongside visitor favourites from the Samuel and Esther Sarick Collection at the AGO, to reveal the artist’s material inventiveness, humour and narrative power. Reclaiming through his art the oral histories stolen from him during his years in residential school, Radical Remembrance will be on view through June 25, 2023, in the AGO’s Philip B. Lind Gallery on Level 1.

Born in 1950 in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories, in what is now the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Piqtoukun lives and works in Southern Ontario. His works range in scale and material - from intimate figures to three meter installations, incorporating steel, stone, whale bone, Italian alabaster, computer parts and Brazilian soapstone.  Part of the first generation of Inuvialuit sculptors to work in the South, he is celebrated for his ability to give expression to stories and characters from Inuvialuit oral history.

Curated by Wanda Nanibush, AGO Curator of Indigenous Art, the exhibition is, she says, “beautiful, but with a sense of precariousness. There is very real, raw emotion in these works, created by an artist seeking to reclaim what was stolen from him. In his new works– made specifically for this exhibition – we see his ongoing innovation, as he challenges expectations and explores new materials, while continuing to resurface deep knowledge. Shamans can fly yes, but in Piqtoukun’s world, they take a plane.”

Organized poetically, Piqtoukun’s figures are assembled as if in conversation; the behatted stone figure of Queen Elizabeth (c.1998) looks on as a sly Raven Steals the Moon (2022), and the Seven Faces of Death (1995) grimly confronts a three-meter blue whale rib carved into a Baby Brontosaurus (2022).

Permeating Piqtuokun’s work is the Inuit concept of Inua, “a belief in the spiritual force that imbues all things,” says Nanibush. “Entering the exhibition, no matter what the creature – be it human, muskox, Shaman, or the endangered right whale – it’s clear they are all part of a complex and interwoven spiritual ecosystem, the balance of which, is dependent on reciprocity.”  

AGO Members have advance access to the exhibition on Friday, January 20, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. For more details on how to become an AGO member, visit

On Wednesday, January 25, 2023, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., join David Ruben Piqtoukun and Inuvialuit Drum Dancers, Ruben Anton Komangapik and Soo Nam Suh for an opening celebration in Walker Court, featuring music and remarks. For more details, visit

David Ruben Piqtoukun: Radical Remembrance is free for all Indigenous Peoples, AGO Members, Annual Passholders and visitors aged 25 and under. Same day tickets can now be booked in person and online. For more details on how to book your tickets or to become a Member or Annual Passholder, visit

David Ruben Piqtoukun (1950-) is an Inuvialuk sculptor who emerged as an artist in the mid-1970s. Born in Paulatuk, NWT in what is now the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, and based in Southern Ontario, Piqtoukun began to explore carving as a form of storytelling after he was encouraged by art patron Dr. Allan Gonor to collect Inuit stories during his travels through the north, as well as after being mentored by his brother Abraham Anghik Ruben who had begun to learn stone carving in Fairbanks, Alaska, USA. Since then, his vast knowledge of stories and oral history has been translated into sculpted works in his own distinctive style, often with a focus on shamanistic stories of travel and transformation or scenes of spirits and arctic life.

The first Inuk artist to be appointed to the Sculpture Society of Canada, Piqtoukun had his first solo exhibition in 1973 at Arctic Arts Limited. Other significant exhibitions have included a 1996 showing with the Winnipeg Art Gallery titled Between Two Worlds: Sculpture by David Ruben Piqtoukun. His work was also featured in the 1986 Expo in Vancouver, BC at the Northwest Territories Pavilion, and in dozens of group exhibitions since the 1970s, in places such as France, Italy, Germany, Japan and more. He has also acted as a mentor to other Inuit artists, such as the late Inuvialuk artist Floyd Kuptana. In March 2022, Piqtoukun was awarded the Governor General’s Artist Achievement Award for his significant contributions to the artistic landscape of Canada.

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Radical Remembrance: The Sculptures of David Ruben Piqtoukun is organized by the Art Gallery of Ontario.

Located in Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario is one of the largest art museums in North America, attracting approximately one million visitors annually. The AGO Collection of more than 120,000 works of art ranges from cutting-edge contemporary art to significant works by Indigenous and Canadian artists and European masterpieces. The AGO presents wide-ranging exhibitions and programs, including solo exhibitions and acquisitions by diverse and underrepresented artists from around the world. In 2019, the AGO launched a bold new initiative designed to make the museum even more welcoming and accessible with the introduction of free admission for anyone 25 years and under and a $35 annual pass. Visit to learn more.

The AGO is funded in part by the Ontario Ministry of Tourism, Culture and Sport. Additional operating support is received from the City of Toronto, the Canada Council for the Arts and generous contributions from AGO Members, donors and private-sector partners.

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