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Internment Camp Survivor's Art Reflects Resilience of Alaska Native Peoples
Artist Gertrude Svarny influential in keeping Unangan art and culture alive after Unalaska region’s devastation during WWII
September 06, 2018
ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – Aug. 30, 2018 – During World War II, Gertrude Svarny was evacuated from her home in Unalaska, along with nearly 900 other Unangax^, to internment camps in Southeast Alaska. Held for the duration of the war, those who survived and returned home found their communities ransacked and burned. The impact on Unangan culture, traditions and language was profound. Svarny’s art became a means to reflect her people’s culture — to tell the story of the Unangan people, who thrived for thousands of years in the same place. Her daughters and other family members share the interest and the making. Together, they have helped maintain and perpetuate Unangan art and culture.
The exhibition Gertrude Svarny: Ukuqanaadan opens Friday, Sept. 7, at the Anchorage Museum. Roughly translated, Ukuqanaadan means vision. Svarny’s goal for the exhibition is to show the continuity of an enduring culture through art. Although Svarny painted in her younger years, it wasn’t until age 51 that she dedicated her life to making art. She is an accomplished weaver, bentwood artist, and ivory and soapstone carver. Within all of her works are traditional materials — pigments made of local minerals, decoration created from sinew, seal intestine and sea lion whiskers — and a distinct interpretation of Unangan history and culture. At age 88, Svarny still lives in Unalaska, where she makes her artwork. Svarny and her family will be in the exhibition from 6 to 7 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7 to meet and talk with visitors about the exhibition.
Svarny’s work is housed in numerous permanent collections around the world. In 2017, she was honored with a Distinguished Artist Award from the Rasmuson Foundation and received an Alaska Federation of Native President’s Award for her involvement in the arts.
Gertrude Svarny: Ukuqanaadan is presented as part of the Patricia B. Wolf Solo Exhibition Series with support from the Alaska State Council on the Arts, the National Endowment for the Arts and the Anchorage Museum Foundation Alaska Airlines Silver Anniversary Fund.
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The largest museum in Alaska, the Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center tells the true story of the North by connecting people, expanding perspectives and encouraging global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. Learn more at anchoragemuseum.org.