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Alaskan Artists Respond to Climate Change, Colonization in new Exhibition at GW’s Corcoran School
‘Decolonizing Alaska’ at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design Features Artworks From 30 Native and Non-Native Alaskans
February 03, 2017
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WASHINGTON (Feb 3, 2017)—As more attention is brought to the shrinking polar ice cap and the future of our planet, Alaska’s place in the world has moved from the fringe to the center. Concerns about climate change and cultural survival in Alaska are a major part of global conversations. A new exhibit opening Friday at the George Washington University’s Corcoran School of the Arts and Design explores how 31 diverse contemporary Alaskan artists are grappling with these issues and will present new possibilities for cultural and environmental sustainability.
“Decolonizing Alaska” features Alaska’s history with the colonization of native lands, how Alaska is sustaining its heritage and how Alaskans are responding to climate change. The exhibit, hosted in the Corcoran’s atrium, is open to the public as part of the school’s focus on exploring leading social issues through art.
“There has never been a more important time to talk about native Alaska histories and narratives, which have otherwise remained unseen, hidden or overlooked,” said Sanjit Sethi, director of the Corcoran School of the Arts and Design. “Our current sociopolitical climate has created a space where public vitriol, castigation, scrutiny and marginalizing of the ‘the other’ have picked up a dangerous degree of momentum. A true response to these sociopolitical conditions comes not only from social media and traditional forms of protest but also from the thoughtful investment of diverse, creative practitioners.”
Artists in the exhibit create and express resilience and adaptation through a confluence of indigenous, global, traditional and contemporary concepts, technologies and media. The exhibit introduces new ideas around Alaskan culture by connecting endangered traditions with contemporary experiences. The exhibit moves beyond stereotypical ideas of dogsleds and Eskimos to inspire conversation around self-definition and the power to express ideas and identity separate from those that permeate popular culture.
“As the world’s attention shifts to the shrinking polar ice cap and the future of our planet, Alaska’s place in the world has moved from the fringe to the center,” Curator Asia Freeman said. “The exhibit focuses on these important conversations through the lens of artists.”
“Decolonizing Alaska” runs through March 18, 2017 at the Corcoran. The traveling exhibit is sponsored by Bunnell Street Arts Center of Homer, Alaska, and supported in part by grants from ArtWorks, the CIRI Foundation and Rasmuson Foundation with additional support from the exhibit venues and Rasmuson Foundation through the Harper Arts Touring Fund, administered, under contract, by the Alaska State Council on the Arts.
Exhibition hours: Wednesday-Sunday, 1-6 p.m., Monday and Tuesday by appointment
In her painting “St. Katherine of Karluk,” Linda Infante Lyons explores the rediscovery of culture and the recovery of lost religious icons as important steps in decolonization. Ms. Lyons replaces symbolic elements of a Russian Orthodox icon with those of the Alutiiq people of Kodiak, Alaska, an area greatly affected by Russian colonization. The Christian Madonna becomes a portrait of the artist’s great-grandmother portrayed as an Alutiiq shaman, while the Christ child becomes a seal, representing the shaman’s connection to animal spirits.
Rebecca Lyons’ mixed-media piece, “Counting on Liberty,” explores the struggle for equal rights for all women with an image of her great-grandmother, an Alaskan native Dena’ina Athabascan woman. The piece depicts the woman wearing a cartoon crown matching that of the Statue of Liberty—dedicated the same year Ms. Lyon’s great-grandmother was born—printed over a U.S. $20 bill and the American flag. The artwork also raises the question of who should be given the privilege of gracing U.S. currency.
Annette Bellamy’s “Fish Fingers” tells the story of her life as a fisherwoman through a collection of handmade fingers sewn from the skins of halibut, salmon and yellow eye rockfish. The fingers represent the physical wear and tear of Ms. Bellamy’s livelihood on her hands, the care she takes while fishing and the hand we all play in protecting natural resources.