Protection: Adaptation and Resistance Workshops in Customary Arts

A Journey to What Matters Grantee: Bunnell Street Arts Center, Story by Asia Freeman

Energized by movements for social justice, concerned about climate change impacts on cultural survival, and sobered by the ongoing pandemic, Bunnell Street Arts Center present ed workshops by and for Indigenous Alaska artists addressing the theme of “Protection” featuring regalia, wearable art, sculpture, songs and masks. The workshops reflect Bunnell’s ongoing work to resist the colonization of Alaska and shift the conversation from how people used to live to how contemporary Indigenous art forms offer cultural protection today. The workshops were funded by The CIRI Foundation’s A Journey to What Matters: Increased Alaska Native Art & Culture grant program and Alaska Community Foundation Corona Virus Relief Fund.

Joel Isaak (Dena’ina, Alaska) served as the project’s Cultural Advisor. Joel Isaak’s family is from the village of Ch’aghałnikt (Point Possession) and currently lives in Soldotna, Alaska. He shared the following: “Our lifeways, material culture, and protocols serve as armor to resist efforts to exterminate us. They are rooted in the power to unite and create space for all people. When we break down the efforts of those who work to silo, segregate, and discriminate there is space for all people and all living things. In an environment that seeks to destroy the living, valuing life has become a powerful form of resistance.”

Workshop Descriptions

  1. Sewing a traditional “trapper hat” of otter fur with Yup’ik artist Peter Paul Kawagaelg Williams as a way to explore Yup’ik culture and philosophy of reciprocity between human, plant, animal and spiritual worlds
  2. Lower Tanana Denakenaga’ Songmaking with David Engels, who has studied this art for the past twenty years, beginning with his grandmother;
  3. Atikluk (snow shirt) Making with Bobby Itta, who loves to create customary art with a modern twist;
  4. Chilkat Weaver Lily Hope lead a cohort of Chilkat weavers in hand-twining a Chilkat Protector Mask from start to finish
  5. Marjorie Kunaq Tahbone (Inupiaq and Kiowa, Nome) taught an intergenerational workshop on how to carve naniq (seal oil lamp) using soapstone and hand tools.
  6. Due to a medical emergency, Benjamin Charles (Bethel) postponed his workshop on carving a customary Yup’ik mask, using positive and negative space to modern carving tools and wood properties.
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