I was born in Paulatuk, Northwest Territories in 1950, to my parents Billy and Bertha Ruben. My earliest memories of our family are of a small nomadic group; hunting and fishing for subsistence along the Arctic coastline, inland rivers and lake areas. These early recollections of living in a nomadic and semi-primitive existence have instilled within me with a deep and lasting love for the raw and rugged beauty of land and nature, which is often reflected in my work.
I was removed from these familiar surroundings at about age 5, to attend residential school where I experienced a tumultuous upheaval of identity. This forced change, brought into question who I am and what was the purpose of my existence without my original identity or direction. In spite of this upheaval, I have pursued life and existence, as did my parents and ancestors, by tapping into my instincts to survive by trial and error. “One day at a time survival instincts” has been my mantra for moving forward and my method for advancing my educational experience. I have lived south of the Northwest Territories since the age of 18.
Since 1972 the course of my stone-carving and sculpture profession has been shaped and re-shaped many times over. I have been fortunate to be able to practice and hone my skills everyday; this has enabled me to pursue ideas exceeding the initial scope and scale of my earlier works. Now, I enjoy working with all manner of materials and exploring new dimensions of conceptualization.
In 1975, Dr. Allen Gonor of North Battleford, Saskatchewan, persuaded me to start collecting traditional stories from my parents and elders. From these oral traditions, my Inuit roots began to re-establish themselves. From the moment I began to absorb my culture, the direction of my work took an immense leap into Inuit mythology. Incorporating new and old stories into my stonework conveys my interpretation and acknowledgement of my Inuit ancestry. Through this evolution, I have created effective methods of interpreting this traditional mythology, utilising my artwork as sources of learning and teaching. My creative process is now animated, inspired and deeply rooted within me. These simple and beautiful stories are embedded in the work I continually create. The conception, planning and execution of sculpting has become a ritual for me; one that reinforces my abstract imagination with each new project and challenge.
I have been fortunate to travel extensively and experience first hand, new people, traditions and cultures in Canada and throughout the world. I have traveled a great distance from the ‘Little Eskimo Kid’ who was more comfortable running about bare-footed and snotty nosed. From my travels and dialogue with distant peoples I am always learning and expanding my creative imagination for present and future endeavours. I continually explore new materials, forms and colours, expanding into much larger conceptual installations in metal, stone, light and water. I have developed innovative fabrication methods that require a variety of equipment and a wide range of specialists to assist me.
The concept of the existing works and drawings I am proposing all deal with the educational aspects of achievement, knowledge and exploration; interpretive of the Aboriginal potential and desire.
“With the introduction of modern religion the shaman has slowly disappeared, but they live through the artist in this day and age. Myself and my brother, we are the extensions of that. We are just a tool for somebody else. Some of the sculptures that I create are so powerful – it’s as if they are emitting a life force.”
(David Ruben Piqtoukun 1998)
“Over the course of time, the stone speaks. I don’t attack it. I live with it. When I start carving, it is like opening the pages of a book.
New ideas come, and the carving slowly emerges, from one page to another, to formulate a whole story, a recollection.” — David Ruben