Sonya Burgandy Slip

Sonya Kelliher Combs Exhibit, September 2019

Growing up in Nome, Alaska, I spent summers at our camp where we worked, hunted and gathered food and supplies for the winter. It was there where I learned to listen; listened to learn from family, community members and nature. Through observation and the practice of time-honored traditions — skin sewing, beading, and food preparation — I realized my role as Woman, Daughter, Sister, Wife and Artist. The intimacy of traditional women’s work has allowed me to examine the connections between Western and Indigenous cultures. I examine identity through my work.

I’m inspired by the relationship of our ancestors to their environment — how they used skin, fur and membrane in material culture. The subjects of my work are patterns of history, family, and culture. Through the use of synthetic, organic, traditional and modern materials and techniques I build upon the traditions of my people, the Inupiaq and Athabascan. Personal and cultural symbolism forms the imagery. Symbols speak to history, culture, family, and the life of our people; they also speak about abuse, marginalization and the struggles of indigenous people.

I live in a modern world but still depend on the cultural traditions and values of our people, respect of land, animals, sea and each other. I strive to create works that address these issues.

-Sonya Kelliher-Combs

Kelliher-Combs’ work has been shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions in Alaska and the contiguous United States, including the national exhibition Changing Hands 2: Art without Reservation and SITELINES: Much Wider Than a Line. She is a recipient of the prestigious United States Arts Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Fellowship, Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, Rasmuson Fellowship and is a recipient of the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award and 2010 Alaska Governor’s Individual Artist Award. Her work is included in the collections of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Anchorage Museum, Alaska State Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Eiteljorg Museum, and National Museum of the American Indian. Kelliher-Combs currently lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. As an Alaska Native artist and advocate, she has served on the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Board, Alaska State Council on the Arts Visual Arts Advisory, and the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts Board.