The Inuit Art Quarterly is pleased to connect readers to institutions around the world with a sampling from some of the most unique holdings of Inuit art. For this spotlight on the Anchorage Museum in Anchorage, Alaska, we asked Aaron Leggett, Curator of Alaska History and Culture, to pick the five works he believes speak to the heart of the collection.
Curator(s): Julie Decker, Director and CEO; Aaron Leggett, Curator of Alaska History and Culture; Monica Shah, Director of Collections and Chief Conservator
Number of works:150 Inuit; 5,403 Iñupiaq works
First work(s): The first Iñupiaq work, a walrus ivory carving of a seal, was donated in one of the first collections accessioned in 1955.
Recent acquisition(s): Three recent photographs by Iñupiaq artist Brian Adams.
Significant exhibitions: The museum presents exhibits with a focus on the art, history and science of the North. Recent notable projects include View From Up Here: The Arctic at the Center of the World (2016), Arctic Ambitions: Captain Cook and the Northwest Passage (2015), and Dena’inaq’ Huch’ulyeshi: The Dena’ina Way of Living (2014).
Interesting/unique/surprising works: Sylvester Ayek’s Mask Mobile (1974)—based on a nineteenth-century Tikigaq (Point Hope) mask, currently in the National Museum of Denmark’s collection—features a fascinating deconstructivist approach. The ivory collection spans many centuries and reflects both Iñupiaq culture and western influences, including a Mutt and Jeff ivory set, undoubtedly inspired by the newspaper comic strip.
The museum is undertaking an expansion to its facility that will fulfill the need to create an equal emphasis on disciplines in terms of dedicated gallery space. The new Art of the North Galleries will add dedicated spaces for northern art and artists and are scheduled to open to the public in September 2017. While the new galleries are entirely dedicated to the art collection, they are part of a greater narrative that combines other disciplines to convey the complexity of the people and landscape of the North.
Joseph Engasongwok Senungetuk
Self Portrait was created by Joe [Joseph] Senungetuk, who is celebrated Alaskan artist Ron Senungetuk’s younger brother. Starting in the late 1960s and early 1970s, Joe himself was also a very accomplished contemporary Native artist in Alaska working several different mediums including sculptures. In particular I like his series of portraits and in particular his self-portraits done in the mid 1960s to mid 1970s. I see them as very strong political works. At that time, from about 1966 and cumulating in 1971 with The Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act there was a lot of activity going on and a lot of change for Alaskan Natives. In that year, congress settled aboriginal claims by creating regional corporations. I think this piece in particular captures the turbulence of what was going on and the change that was occurring. — AL
In 1988, one of the local newspapers here in Anchorage, The Anchorage Daily News, did a series of articles titled A People in Peril which traced the disproportionately high effects that alcohol has played on Alaska Natives including suicide, domestic violence, child abuse and homelessness among other issues. There were a series of pieces done by contemporary Indigenous artists in response to that series, including this work by Susie Bevins-Ericsen. — AL
James Kivetoruk Moses
James Kivetoruk Moses was an Iñupiaq illustrator who worked in the mid 20th century. The [Anchorage Museum] has a pretty large collection of his drawings but what drew me to this one in particular is that unlike many of his more well-known drawings which represent traditional Iñupiaq lifestyle, here, Moses really looks at the spirituality and traditional beliefs of the Iñupiaq including shamanism. For this reason, I find this piece to be pretty amazing. — AL
In Alaska, Ron Senungetuk is really considered the grandfather of contemporary Alaska Native art. We have several pieces in the collection by him but I selected Coming up for Air because I love the abstract nature of this piece. Basically, it’s like you are looking down in the breathing hole as the seal is coming up, literally for air. I think it’s a fascinating piece and it shows Senungetuk’s true talent. His eye as an artist really shines here through his ability to take something so timeless, like a seal’s breathing hole, and abstract ite. — AL
I selected this incredible piece by Paul Tiulana because it shows not just a creative spirit but also a technical mastery by one of the finest Alaska Native carvers of the 20th century. Tiulana, who grew up on King Island, a community that is world renowned for their ivory carvings, is well-known for his technical achievements visible here in the careful rendering the boat and the immaculate details of the bear. — AL
This is a spotlight on the feature Looking at Collections: Inuit Art around the World in Summer 2017 issue of the Inuit Art Quarterly.
5 Works Museum Spotlight