OPEN FEBRUARY - SEPTEMBER 2018
Decolonizing Alaska is a multimedia visual art exhibit featuring contemporary artists exploring and responding to Alaska’s history of colonization. A collaboration of more than 30 diverse Alaska artists, both Native and non-Native, the exhibit introduces new ideas around Alaska culture. Artists move beyond stereotypical ideas to inspire conversation around self-definition and express ideas about identity separate from those that permeate popular culture.
One of the exhibit’s featured artists, Linda Infante Lyons, said her ancestors are of Russian and Alutiiq heritage. Rediscovering culture and recovering lost religious icons are important steps in her decolonization process.
In my painting, I replace the symbolic elements of a Russian Orthodox icon with those of the Alutiiq people. The Christian Madonna becomes the Alutiiq shaman in a portrait of my great grandmother, and the Christ child, a seal, represents the shaman’s connection to animal spirits. The seal offers a sprig of “pushki,’ Russian for cow parsnip, a medicinal plant of Kodiak. The Madonna’s halo is embellished with elements of one of the masks found in the Pinart Collection the Château Musée in Boulogne-sur-Mer in France. I am a living example of the melding of two cultures, the native and the colonizer. I believe complete decolonization is nearly impossible. In this effort to represent the decolonization of Alaska, I acknowledge the assimilated icons of the colonizer, yet bring forth, as equals, the spiritual symbols of my native ancestors.
Image credit: Linda Infante Lyons, “St. Katherine of Karluk,” oil on canvas, 2016
The exhibition is sponsored by Bunnell Street Arts Center and supported by the National Endowment for the Arts, the Rasmuson Foundation, the Alaska State Council on the Arts, and the CIRI Foundation. It has been displayed at a variety of museums in Alaska and at the Corcoran School of Art and Design at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.
IN THE NEWS
Decolonizing Alaska: Learning to Listen
What does it mean to “decolonize” in the context of a museum exhibit?
“Decolonization” in museums describes efforts by Indigenous people to assert authority over representations of their own cultures. Today many museums are working collaboratively with Native groups, offering space for individuals to describe Indigenous life, history, and culture. These expressions frequently assume a political stance that challenges the consequences of colonization.
In this exhibit, curated by Asia Freeman of The Bunnell Street Arts Center, contemporary Alaskan artists—some Indigenous, some not—interpret the challenges of historical oppression, climate change, globalization, social disruptions, environmental degradation, and ongoing cultural insensitivities and discriminations.
Visitors can be part of this decolonizing project by listening to, learning about, and understanding what these Alaskan artists express in their artworks and accompanying statements.