This exhibition features artworks by four contemporary Alaska Native artists who re-create and reinterpret images, reinvent methods, and remark upon the intersections of history and identity, both personal and cultural.
Through contemporary visual means, these artists seek new and distinct ways to speak of tradition and mediate the serious, and sometimes ironic, conditions of art, identity, and history in the late 20th and early 21st century. Many recent works raise questions about the ways personal identity is constructed and how the homogeneous term "Native art” has come to stand for highly individual Native people. They use their artwork to question institutional methods of determining Native heritage, to examine their own mixed-race identities, and to challenge perceptions and stereotypes about indigenous people. Some use traditional iconography to create new forms and designs; others are shedding traditional forms and images entirely and using conceptual ideas related to Native identity to protest or address social problems.
The title This Is Not A Silent Movie comes from a quote by writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie in which he stated, “This is not a silent movie. Our voices will save our lives.” Through his authorship of poetry and films, Alexie works to move audiences away from narrow, stereotypical views of Native people, views that Native people had very little influence in shaping.
Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Nicholas Galanin, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, and Susie Silook represent contemporary culture with strong voices, not silent ones. They find a space between conflict and resolution, between questioning and criticism, between this generation and the next, and between art and activism. This is not a silent movie; these voices resound.
- Julie Decker, Exhibition Curator
May 26, 2013 – September 8, 2013
The Craft and Folk Art Museum challenges established ideas about craft, design and folk art and engages people though its diverse exhibitions and programs.
September 2, 2013 – November 9, 2013
The Museum of Contemporary Craft is a vibrant center for investigation and dialogue that helps expand the definition and exploration of craft.
December 20, 2013 – January 9, 2014
Montana Museum of Art & Culture is home to one of the oldest and most prominent fine art collections in the Rocky Mountain Northwest.
Through her mixed-media painting and sculpture, Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of an ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity. Her images are a combination of shared iconography and intensely personal imagery. Read more
Through his artwork, Mehner looks to define himself in the time and space that he lives. Born in Fairbanks to a Tlingit/N'ishga mother and a Caucasian father, Mehner’s artwork examines his multicultural heritage and the accompanying social expectations and definitions. Read more
Through her mixed-media painting and sculpture, Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of an ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity. Her images are a combination of shared iconography and intensely personal imagery. She uses synthetic, organic, traditional, and modern materials to examine cultural traditions and to question accepted notions of beauty.
Skin is a recurring theme in Kelliher-Combs’ work, for which she has developed a distinctive style. She creates the stretched “skin” surface of her “paintings” through the application of thick layers of acrylic polymer or polyurethane. These layers are built up slowly and embedded with scraps of clothing, hair, fur, walrus stomach, and other found materials. Kelliher-Combs pigments the layers with colors and pockmarks them with circular pores, spiral eddies, and beaded loops that imbue the surface of the “skin” with what she describes as “secrets.” Kelliher-Combs says her interest is in the nature of secrets, not the content—and these secrets take many forms.
Galanin’s work is intended to confront cultural issues —especially as they relate to appropriation, categorization, economics, cultural identity, and representation. Born in Sitka, Galanin has lived, traveled, and worked all over the world. He has extensive training in traditional, as well as contemporary approaches to art, pursuing both on parallel paths. His work simultaneously preserves his culture and explores new conceptual territory.
Galanin comes from a long line of Northwest Coast artists, starting with his great-grandfather, who sculpted in wood; down through his father, who works in precious metal and stone; to Galanin, who received his BFA in silversmithing and jewelry design. Now, concept determines Galanin's choice of medium, and he presents visual experiences to inspire constructive dialogue with viewers. Valuing his culture as highly as his individuality, Galanin is known for navigating the politics of cultural representation as he balances both ends of the aesthetic spectrum.
Through his artwork, Mehner looks to define himself in the time and space that he lives. Born in Fairbanks to a Tlingit/N'ishga mother and a Caucasian father, Mehner’s artwork examines his multicultural heritage and the accompanying social expectations and definitions. Mehner was raised in two Alaskan environments: as an urban Native in Anchorage, and what he describes as a “rural hippie” in Fairbanks, living without electricity, running water, or phone. From these perspectives, he has studied the constructs of Native American identity and his life inside and outside of them. Having grown up with the trappings of the urban Indian experience— such as poverty, alcoholism, and abuse—Mehner used his early work to process his childhood.
The work in this exhibition, Finding My Song, is presented in three sections. Mehner draws upon his family’s stories to take a personal look at the retention and reclamation of language.
Silook is a writer, carver, and sculptor who has contributed a significant body of work to indigenous art that critiques the legacies of colonization in the Arctic and the ongoing violence against women in rural and urban communities in Alaska and elsewhere. The ancestral walrus-tusk ivory dolls of St. Lawrence Island, traditionally carved by men, are the basis of her work. Silook also departs from tradition by depicting women in her carvings rather than the animals most commonly rendered by men.
As one of the first female carvers to gain critical acclaim in a male-dominated field, Silook has used this platform to issue powerful statements. She has defied constructions both by her medium of carving and by the choice of her contemporary and pertinent subject matter. Silook often chooses to use her own biography of abuse and recovery as her artistic inspiration and to visualize and verbalize the silence surrounding the sexual abuse of Native women.