this is not a silent movie

This Is Not A Silent Movie

Four Contemporary Alaska Native Artists

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In partnership with Pacific Northwest College of Art, the PNCA BFA in Writing Program, the Native Arts and Culture Foundation, Portland Art Museum, Marylhurst University, Portland State University, Portland Community College, Oregon College of Art & Craft, local galleries, and tribes from the Pacific Northwest (including Alaska), Museum of Contemporary Craft is pleased to present Illuminations, a cross-city series of events celebrating Native arts and culture in Portland and the Pacific Northwest.

January 31, 2014 – April 19, 2014

Curated by: Julie Decker, Ph.D., Chief Curator at the Anchorage Museum

Organized by The Craft & Folk Art Museum (CAFAM) in collaboration with the Anchorage Museum, This Is Not A Silent Movie: Four Contemporary Alaska Native Artists is centered around four acclaimed Alaska Native artists whose groundbreaking contemporary works question institutional methods of identifying Native heritage, examine their own mixed-race identities, and challenge perceptions and stereotypes about indigenous peoples.

Through the language of contemporary visual art, Nicholas Galanin, Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Da-ka-xeen Mehner, and Susie Silook and 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. Though each artist’s work is rooted in a lifelong immersion in their respective Alaska Native craft traditions, their multi-media installations dissolve the boundaries between contemporary and traditional arts.

Nicholas Galanin’s (Tlingit/Aleut) video and photography installations object to the cultural appropriation and categorization of indigenous peoples by popular culture. In Things are Looking Native, Native’s Looking Whiter, Galanin creates a split image that is a composite of one of photographer Edward Curtis’ Native American models with actress Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in Star Wars. The image references the cross-pollination of the traditional butterfly whorl hairstyle that was worn by unmarried Hopi girls and the popular culture image. In 2013, Galanin received a major award from United States Artists.

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan) utilizes media such as polyurethane, Beluga intestine, and walrus stomach into her paintings, sculptures, and labor-intensive installations. These works often simulate skin, which is a point of investigation into her struggle for self-definition and identity.

Carver Susie Silook (Yupik/Iñupiaq) is a writer and sculptor. The ancestral ivory dolls of Saint Lawrence, 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. Her walrus tusk carvings add a distinctly feminist perspective to an otherwise male-dominated art form as they address the widespread incidence of sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against Native women. Silook received a United States Artists Fellowship in 2007.

Da-ka-xeen Mehner’s installation Finding My Song (Tlingit/N’ishga) draws upon his family’s stories to take a personal look at the retention and reclamation of language. The installation is inspired partially by his grandmother, whose mouth was washed out with soap whenever she spoke her Tlingit language in school in order to “encourage” her to speak English. Mehner’s work examines his own multicultural heritage and the social expectations and definitions that accompany each aspect of it.

The title This Is Not A Silent Movie comes from a quote by Native American writer and filmmaker Sherman Alexie, who works to move audiences away from narrow and stereotypical views of Native people—a view that Native people had very little influence in shaping.


The Boeing Company, J & S Bishop Fund of The Oregon Community Foundation, Oregon Cultural Trust, Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust, U.S. Bank


Western States Arts Federation (WESTAF) and the National Endowment for the Arts