Alaska Native artists share the importance of art in their culture

Artists from all over the state came to share their art, as well as the importance behind it to them in cultural values.
Published: May. 13, 2023 at 10:49 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - The last day of the Alaska Native Artists Market was held at the Marriot Hotel in downtown Anchorage on Saturday.

At the market, artists from all over the state came to share their art as well as the importance behind it to them in cultural values.

“It’s in our ties with our culture, because like the seal is our main, my main food diet,” Kotlik Artist Theresa Mike said. “The skin, the oil, the meat, the bones, the bones are for like hunting tools we use it to make we use it for carving also, and we make it for jewelry too. So I specialize in jewelry and skin sewing.”

Leon Misak Kinneeveauk said he started carving when he was seven years old, he says he was incarcerated for 12 years and that carving was a way for him to redirect his life during his sentence.

Now he owns Alaska Art Alliance, where he provides a space for aspiring artists, so that they can work on the art form that he says saved his life.

“We need to create the space for the next generation to be able to come and say, ‘hey, I wanted to learn,’ and it connects them to their culture, especially here in the city,” Kinneeveauk said. “You don’t, you don’t have much opportunity at times to connect with your culture once you’re here.”

Arianna Avugiak started creating art after her father inspired her. Now she believes in using her craft to keep her culture going.

“It’s really important to start beading or teach other people and younger kids to keep our culture alive,” Avugiak said.

Shavonne Geffe recalls how her ancestors carved tools to survive, which is where she finds connection as she sells her ivory carvings to make a living.

“I’m like, well how am I gonna survive? And it was to do art, and try to do well. And that’s pretty much what my ancestors have been doing forever,” Geffe said

For Theresa Mike, she contemplates on how she not only gets her materials from the land, but her inspiration too.

“I always have to look at our flowers or trees or animals and draw them first and then go home and try to create it,” Mike said. “The creation on it is more important because it comes from within you.”