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Abraham Anghik Ruben
canadian, inuvialuit
Birth Date: 
Birth Place: 
Paulatuk, NW Territories
Yupik Abraham Anghik Ruben was born in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories in 1951 and has become a major innovative force among Inuit sculptors. Abraham has always thought of himself as part of the world of contemporary sculptors and has had to break down many of the subtle barriers that constrain the Inuit artist. He has proven that an Inuit can root himself in the south without losing his cultural Identity. Abraham has been exhibiting his work since 1973. Abraham has clung fiercely to the stories and traditions he was taught as a child and although he studied art at university, he has often chosen non-traditional materials and tools to tell us the old tales and legends in a new way. His artistic exploration has led to creating monumental sculptures in Bronze for both indoor and outdoor installations. Abraham has always been a promoter of other Inuit artists and was instrumental in helping organize the first ever exhibition of circumpolar art from the communities of Arctic Siberia, Alaska, Canada, Greenland, Sampi, Norway, Sweden and Finland. Abraham was one of the artists' exhibiting in the traveling Noah''s Ark presented by the National Gallery of Canada. Abraham's work was exhibited alongside artists such as Pablo Picasso, and Edgar Degas. Abraham is featured in the winter 2005 issue of Inuit Art Quarterly. Anghik-Ruben's art can be found in public, corporate and private collections throughout the world. Some of the public art collections where Abraham's art is represented include: The National Gallery of Canada; Art Gallery of Ontario; Canadian Museum of Civilization; Glenbow Museum; House of Commons; Indian and Northern Affairs; McMaster University Art Gallery; McMichael Canadian Art Collection; Prince of Wales Northern Heritage Centre; Royal Ontario Museum; and The Winnipeg Art Gallery. Abraham currently resides on Salt Spring Island with his wife Patricia Donnelly and son Tim. ARTIST STATEMENT: I come from a long line of seafaring people. My ancestry is a melding of diverse cultures from far flung reaches of the globe. My parents, Bill Esokak Ruben and Bertha (Thrasher) Ruben, are of mixed ancestry. My father's parents, were Yupik Alaskan from his father's side My mother's parents were Portugese-African (Senegal) from the Cape Verde Islands on her father's side and Inupiat Alaskan on her mother's side. My great-grandparents on my mother's side of the family were respected and capable Yupik Alaskan Shamans. Apakark was my great-grand-fathers name. His specialty was weather medicine, and the gyrfalcon was his spirit helper. Kagun was my great-grandmother's name. She was equal to her husband in many ways. Her spirit helper was an underground serpent. They were both know and respected up and down the coast of Alaska. In the latter part of the 1870's, Apakark and Kagun were hired by an American whaling captain to navigate his ship through the Bering Sea, with a final destination of Herschel Island, Canada. They were never to return to the place of their ancestors. I was born southeast of Paulatuk in November of 1951 at a winter camp near a coal mine used by the Catholic missionaries. This was 35 miles southeast of Paulatuk ("pau" means "coal" or "soot", Paulatuk means "place of coal"). I was later to learn that this was also close to the centre of a massive volcanic crater which is now a major centre for mineral exploration. During my formative years we followed a lifestyle not much changed in thousands of years. We were still living to the ancient rhythms of life passed down through the generations. The voices of our ancestors and recently deceased relatives were still a vital part of our daily existence, and our lives were in tune with the daily rhythms of nature. We still held to our beliefs in natural and supernatural forces and taboos that kept our society together. We were a small band of 10-15 families, and our yearly travels made for a robust and highly spiritual nomadic experience. We would cover large expanses of land and sea, ever in search of migrating caribou, musk-oxen, polar bear, and beluga whales. In spring and summer we would be busy geese hunting and char fishing, berry picking and playing. I owe who I am today to my mother and father. My father was an exceptional husband and provider to my mother and family. My mother was a caring and loving woman and surrogate mother to many others. She was our storyteller and teacher. In order to provide for an ever growing family, my father spent much time away from home, constantly on the move hunting and trapping. He still had time to provide us with love and nurturing only a father could give his offspring. My parents had many trial rearing and providing for us, and many times food was short. Through it all they managed to give us children a firm upbringing and a spiritual base to allow us to grow into adulthood. My early life, until the age of eight, was spent in a nomadic lifestyle, with the daily pursuit of food and shelter a never-ending cycle. These early years provided the foundation of family-mother, father, siblings, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and other relatives. This background gave me cultural and spiritual ties to the Inuit way of life and a sense of spirit of place. This family-oriented life was severed at the age of eight when I and several other siblings and cousins were rounded up and sent to the distant government town of Inuvik to attend residential school, Grollier Hall. I recall with stark realism and terror, my first day and induction into what would become a lifetime nightmare. I have many memories of those years and for the most part they were devoid of love, humanity, and compassion. Devoid of the guidelines and the true morals and ethics that make sincere men and women of children. It is little wonder that my generation and my parents' generation were so physically and psychologically in need of healing-the spiritual healing that would take years to manifest itself. From 1959 to 1970, I was incarcerated along with several hundred other Inuit, Dene, Metis, and white children. We had been sent to this place due to pressure from the World Health Organization in New York. In a statement issued by them the proclaimed: "The native people of Arctic Canada have been found to be amongst the world's most illiterate people. Something should be done to set this right and soon". Acquiescing to pressure from this world health body, the Government of Canada set about instituting a plan that had been carried out in Southern Canada in the last century, in co-operation with the Catholic and Anglican churches. In essence the plan called for the selection of a central site, serviceable by road, water or air. Each site or village selected would have a main residence built, or maybe two separate residences, as in the case of Inuvik. One was to house the Catholic element and the other the Anglican groups. The priests, nuns, and supervisors were mainly of French Canadian ancestry, (Oblate priests and Grey Nuns). Their goal was to eradicate native culture and languages and instill a new and better set of moral and ethical values. We were deprived of parents, and all tangible aspects of our culture. The members of church and government were by and large blindly well meaning in their intent. They went about their business, and it was business on a grand human scale. We children and our souls were a tradable human commodity. Many years would pass before I was able to come to terms with that phase of my life; before I could reconcile the physical and psychological abuse of those lost years. I have one notable memory of a National Film Board film about Canadian geology, and I especially remember the ending where the geologist was shown hammering away on a rock face. I told my teacher I was going to be doing just that when I became an adult. I was so convinced of what I saw I had to tell my teacher. Another time I surprised the same teacher with several animals of papier mache I had done on my own from photos. It's sad to think that wonderful memories seldom existed within the confines of Grollier Hall. After eleven years, I left school in 1970 not having completed grade 10. In January 1971 I enrolled at the University of Alaska's Native Art Center where I tutored under Ron Senungetuk. My studies at the center started in 1971 and resumed again in 1974-75. I knew in 1971 that the occupation and life of an artist was meant for me. After leaving school in 1975, I took it upon myself to continue my formal education on the road". My acquaintances, be they artists or craftsmen, became my teachers. I have always kept myself open to any and all possible avenues of artistic expression in an effort to understand the subtle nuances and emotions related to the creation and appreciation of art. Throughout the years I have had many teachers and mentors. One individual stands out as a spiritual guide, friend, and mentor. His name was Fabian Burbeck, an adherent to the teachings of Eckankar, the science of soul travel, as taught by Sri Paul Twitchell, a modern day American prophet and author of these teachings. I met the Burbecks, Fabian and Lillian, in the summer of 1977 in Toronto. We became fast friends and through lengthy talks and formal introduction through lectures and written material, I was introduced to the spiritual teachings of Eckankar. Fabian and Lillian Burbeck were individuals whom I entrusted with my most innermost thoughts and feelings. As I grew to become an artist and sculptor, they nurtured within me an understanding of the inner spirit. The teachings of Eckankar came to me without hesitation, as my own Inuit background spoke of the concepts of the soul (Inua) reincarnation, dreams, spirit travel, and invisible worlds. As an artist I am compelled to speak of these changes in my life, as they have influenced me and led me to further understanding the subtle and underlying nuances of life. I have always been of the strong opinion that the creation and appreciation of art is an entirely cross-cultural and international preoccupation. I believe that no one group or continental enclave has dominion over the creative genius of art, contrary to certain opinions held by so-called leading authorities on Canadian and International art. These individuals hold the opinion that art was an entirely European creation and further, that only those of European ancestry could possibly create and aspire to this noble activity. As an artist, I feel that those opinions do a great disservice to us all as individuals and to this country as a whole. The creative forces that compel us as artists are the results of our formative years, our training and individual experiences. The inspiration come from within, married to the artist's technical and artistic abilities and the medium he or she chooses to convey their innermost thoughts and feelings. This tangible evidence of the inner workings of the spirit draws for the artists an empathetic audience; an audience that appreciates and can relate to the artist's creative endeavors. These individuals appreciate the works on an aesthetic, emotional, spiritual, and intellectual level. I have chosen to be a story teller for my people, through the medium of sculpture. Within these images, I attempt to draw from the audience a range of thoughts, feelings, and emotions stirring within them; these same thoughts, feelings, and emotions I have wrought into the work. I no longer speak my mother tongue, yet I need to do my part in carrying on the stories, cultural myths, and legends and spiritual legacy of our people. My hope is that my hands and spirit within allow me this one gesture. - reprinted from the Winnipeg Art Gallery Catalogue 2001