Exploring Alaska Native Gut: Exhibition, Collections, and Artistic Development

Grantee: Alaska State Museum, Story by Ellen Carlee

The CIRI Foundation funding recently brought together artist Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan) and Alaska State Museum (ASM) staff to begin a collaboration around gut as a culturally meaningful material for exhibitions and programming. In March 2023, Sonya will open a solo exhibition of her work in gut, synthetic polymers, and other media exploring themes of identity, secrets, abuse, credibility, and healing. Following in May 2023 and on view through the summer season, two complementary galleries will open alongside Sonya’s. One will feature historical gut objects she has selected from the museum collection to further explore her solo exhibition themes. The third gallery examines cross-cultural and scientific information about gut parkas from across Alaska in a project to reunite the many unidentified gut parkas in museum collections with their cultural context.

Sonya’s guest curation is facilitated by ASM conservator Ellen Carrlee, whose research has included the study of gut processing with Yup’ik and Alutiiq experts as well as treatment techniques to clean, re-shape and repair gut items. Sonya’s vision for the three interrelated galleries is also under development in collaboration with ASM exhibit team Jackie Manning and Aaron Elmore, who are designing innovative exhibition techniques to meet her aesthetic and interpretive goals.