Alaska Native artists present traditional stories and aesthetics in innovative, contemporary ways in this exhibition curated from the Anchorage Museum collection.
“We carry with us fragments of our culture and are now bringing those elements into the much broader scope of world civilization,” said Tlingit artist James Schoppert (1947-92). “We cannot return to the old ways, but we must retain the old ways and reflect them in our attitudes and in our art. This will be our contribution.”
The 37 artworks in Re/Marks span the 1970s until the present, following the development of contemporary Alaska Native art from early prints and paintings to recent photography and sculpture. Featured artists include John Hoover, Ron Senungetuk, Susie Silook, Sonya Kelliher-Combs and Perry Eaton. These artists reinterpret images, reinvent methods and remark upon the intersections of history and identity, both personal and cultural.
Examples include pieces by Susie Qimmiqsak Bevins-Ericsen, one of the first Alaska Native female artists to successfully explore sculpture. Traditionally, sculpture and carving were exclusively male art forms. The daughter of a Norwegian-Iñupiaq woman and an English trader, the blond-haired, blue-eyed artist was raised within the Native community but was acutely aware she was different from the other children.
Splitting Away, her 1989 split-faced mask, explores her bi-cultural identity — one side represents her Caucasian ancestry and the other represents her Iñupiaq heritage. At a time when society’s understanding of hybridity in indigenous culture was fraught with tension and suggestions of inauthenticity, Bevins-Ericsen’s work was revolutionary.
Likewise, the other Alaska Native artists chosen for this exhibition meditate on the serious, and sometimes ironic, conditions of art, identity and history in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Their work transcends ethnographic and anthropological interpretations, and challenges preconceived notions of indigenous art, demonstrating that Native art is vital and varied.
This exhibition is part of the Anchorage Museum’s Polar Lab.