Alaska Native
Art Writing Initiative

Alaska Native arts practices and aesthetic systems hold an expansive wealth of knowledge based on thousands of years of development. The symbols that artists use, the materials they employ, and the function of our arts are connected to subsistence practices, historical experiences, cultural stories, and deep connection to place. The written record of Alaska’s Indigenous art history, however, has most often been recorded from the perspective of non-Indigenous authors. While many authors have helped to document Alaska Native arts practices, there have also been examples of misrepresentation in the written record. Whose art story has been told in existing texts and for whose benefit? An Indigenous-based art history provides an opportunity to contextualize our arts and aesthetic traditions in a way that is relevant to our sense of community, our understanding of history, and our values.

To encourage Alaska Native people to assert our right to write our own art histories, The CIRI Foundation has developed the Alaska Native Art Writing Initiative as a pilot program that will run from 2022 through 2025.

This program has the following goals:

  • Make space for missing narratives in Alaska’s art history by sharing our knowledge and adding our voices through writing;
  • Document Alaska Native arts and artists with Indigenous perspectives;
  • Grow the number of practicing Alaska Native art writers and build a supportive community for their work.

Partners for the Alaska Native Art Writing initiative include First Alaskans Institute, Inuit Art FoundationStoryknife Writers Retreat and First American Art Magazine. 

"Information about Alaska Native art can be found almost exclusively in ethnographic museums and anthropological documents that derive knowledge from Native communities. Yet the creative control, voice and the majority audience for these resources are not Native. As informative and inspiring as I find these resources to be, I also believe that the Indigenous lived experience can only be accurately conveyed directly by those with collective cultural memory. When revitalizing and writing about cultural practices, it is vital that we are in the driver’s seat. What I hope to accomplish as a Native writer is to advocate for the protection of Native rights and culture—ensuring the gifts from our ancestors will be passed on to future generations."
Ilegvak Williams
Inuit Art Foundation Fellow

Ilegvak is a Yup’ik culture bearer, artist, designer, filmmaker, writer and educator from Akiak, currently based in Sheet’ká (Sitka). His hand-sewn works repurpose skin from self-harvested traditional foods, bridging worlds of Indigenous art, fashion, and subsistence. Ilegvak writes about environmentalism, traditional food systems, art, tanning, tribal politics and sovereignty. His professional and personal work is increasingly focused on climate change and its disproportionate effects on Indigenous peoples. 

"da’inahdi! Qenash Tukda Dena’inaq’ sh’izhi hdilan. Annie Wenstrup mergans’inaqsh’izhi. Tikahtnu Ht’ana Dnay eshlan shida. Hello Friends. Me Dena’ina name is Qenash Tukda, or “little talking father.” My American name is Annie Wenstrup and I am Dena’ina. I’m a writer living in Fairbanks, Alaska. I recently graduated from Stonecoast with an MFA in creative writing with an emphasis on poetry. I was an Inaugural Indigenous Nations Poetry Fellow last year and am a returning fellow this year. I’m excited to expand my writing skills as a TCF Alaska Native Art Writing Fellow and to learn from the editors at Inuit Art Quarterly. I applied for this fellowship because I believe that when Indigenous people write about our own art, history, and culture, it’s an expression of sovereignty. When Indigenous people set the parameters for the discussion of our cultures and when we determine the lenses through which Indigenous artwork is experienced, those discussions and lenses can reaffirm Indigenous worldviews by celebrating their complexities, vitality, and vibrancy. I am so thankful for this opportunity to learn more about how organizations like Inuit Art Quarterly practice cultural sovereignty in their work and for the chance to practice those principles in my own writing."
Annie Wenstrup
Inuit Art Foundation Fellow