Sonya Kelliher-Combs 2013

Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq/Athabaskan) was raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome. Her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Master of Fine Arts is from Arizona State University. Through her mixed media painting and sculpture, Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of the ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaskan context. Her combination of shared iconography with intensely personal imagery demonstrates the generative power that each vocabulary has over the other. Similarly, her use of synthetic, organic, traditional and modern materials moves beyond oppositions between Western/Native culture, self/other and man/nature, to examine their interrelationships and interdependence while also questioning accepted notions of beauty. Kelliher-Combs’ process dialogues the relationship of her work to skin, the surface by which an individual is mediated in culture.

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 the international exhibition Arts from the Arctic. In 2007, Kelliher-Combs was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and is a recipient of the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award. Her work is included in the collections of the Anchorage Museum, Alaska State Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, and the Eiteljorg Museum. Kelliher-Combs currently lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. As an Alaska Native artist and advocate, she serves on the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Exhibitions Committee, Alaska State Council on the Arts Visual Arts Advisory, and Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts Board. She volunteers and donates her expertise and art to numerous organizations and individuals. It is her goal and mission to bring awareness, to educate, and to perpetuate the arts and traditions of the many diverse cultures of Alaska. Current exhibitions include Hide at the National Museum of American Indian Art, New York, NY and THIS IS DISPLACEMENT: Native Artists Consider the Relationship Between Land and Identity a traveling exhibition.

“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. Personal 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.”

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