Indigenous Artists Attend the 2015 Arctic Circle Assembly

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Alaska’s largest museum brings Indigenous artists to the table during global policy discussions at the October 2015 Arctic Circle Assembly in Iceland.

Sonya Kelliher-Combs and Allison Warden perform in Out of the Box at the Anchorage Museum September 2015. This multi-artist performance presented indigenous perspectives on the legacies of Captain Cook’s voyages

Alaska Native artists Sonya Kelliher-Combs and Allison Warden will discuss life in the North at the Arctic Circle Assembly.

Artists are adept at conveying the complexity of place and people and at moving away from the black-and-white to a place where conversation occurs.

As the Arctic increasingly enters the spotlight of global, political, scientific, and economic activity and innovation, artists across the Circumpolar North are reimagining the “North” as vital, connected and rich in identity. A group of Alaska Native artists working with the Anchorage Museum will share their vision with global leaders at the 2015 Arctic Circle Assembly in Reykjavik, Iceland, this October.

“It is unprecedented that museums and artists are invited to participate at international leadership conferences like the Arctic Circle Assembly, which has largely focused on law, infrastructure, and commerce in the Arctic,” says Anchorage Museum Director Julie Decker. The Anchorage Museum is bringing Indigenous artists from Alaska to the Arctic Circle Assembly for a discussion of Arctic lifeways from a distinctly human and cultural perspective.

“Artists are adept at conveying the complexity of place and people and at moving away from the black-and-white to a place where conversation occurs,” says Decker.

Decker leads a museum whose mission encourages global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. The Anchorage Museum’s Curated Conversations program draws out this dialogue by gathering diverse voices for critical, cross-disciplinary discussions around issues relevant to Northern places and peoples. The museum “curates” conversations exploring the relationship between landscape and culture, including participants with multiple perspectives, from artists and Indigenous communities to policy leaders and scientists. Many discussions address common misperceptions of the North.

Decker will moderate a curated conversation at the Arctic Circle Assembly. The panel brings together Alaska Native artists, performers and writers to discuss the emergence of Alaska’s Northern identity through art and literature, while exploring its connection to the global Arctic within the context of science and research.

The Anchorage Museum presents this conversation during a conference program called “Polar Lab: A Shared North – An Arctic Identity,” from 4:30 to 5:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16, at the Arctic Circle Assembly (Oct. 16-18 in Reykjavík, Iceland). Panelists include:

  • Joan Kane (Iñupiaq), a writer and poet who is the author of “The Cormorant Hunter’s Wife” and “The Straits,” for which she has received the Whiting Writer’s Award;
  • Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Athabascan/Iñupiaq), a contemporary artist whose work chronicles the ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaska context;
  • Da-ka-xeen Mehner (Tlingit/N’ishga), a photographer and sculptor who uses the tools of family ancestry and personal history to build his art;
  • Aaron Leggett (Dena’ina Athabascan), a museum curator who co-curated “Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living,” the first major exhibition on Dena’ina Athabascan culture;
  • Allison Warden (Iñupiaq), performer and artist who virtually brings audiences to the village of Kaktovik where they hear about the impacts of climate change in the Arctic in her one-woman show, “Calling All Polar Bears.” She will perform as part of this session at the conference.

“Northern museums like the Anchorage Museum have important roles to play as conveners, to curate and create conversations, to raise awareness,” says Decker. “At this conference, we stand among policy makers, business leaders and scientists. We are advocating for a genuine voice of the North.”

The Anchorage Museum is the largest museum in Alaska and one of the top 10 most visited attractions in the state. The museum’s mission is to connect people, expand perspectives and encourage global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. Learn more at

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