Traveling Exhibition Featuring Contemporary Alaska Native Art Visits MMAC

April 21, 2014

MISSOULA – Committed to offering the highest quality art, the Montana Museum of Art & Culture presents “This is Not A Silent Movie: Four Contemporary Alaska Native Artists,” featuring works by Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Susie Silook, Da-ka-xeen Mehner and Nicholas Galanin. The exhibition will be on view May 1-July 5 in the Meloy and Paxson galleries located in the Performing Arts and Radio/Television Center at the University of Montana.

The community is invited to an opening reception from 5 to 7 p.m. Thursday, May 1, in the PAR/TV Center Lobby. Julie Farnham, collections registrar at the Anchorage Museum, will deliver remarks at 5:45 p.m. The event is free and open to the public.

Kelliher-Combs, Silook, Mehner and Galanin are four Alaska Native artists who create contemporary installation-based work that explores gender, memory, race, nationality and cultural heritage. These artists seek new ways to speak about tradition and explore the conditions of art, identity and history. Though each artist’s work is rooted in a lifelong immersion in their respective craft traditions, their multimedia installations dissolve the boundaries between contemporary and traditional arts.

The exhibition title comes from author Sherman Alexie, who encourages audiences to shift their notions of Native peoples away from narrow, stereotypical views. He states, “This is not a silent movie, our voices will save our lives.”

In her work, Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabascan) offers a chronicle of an ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity. She creates a stretched “skin” using thick layers of acrylic polymer or polyurethane embedded with scraps of clothing, hair, fur, beluga intestine, walrus stomach and other found materials. This investigation into her struggle for self-definition and identity examines cultural traditions and questions accepted notions of beauty.

Galanin (Tlingit/Aleut) comes from a long line of Northwest Coast artists, starting with his great-grandfather. He uses his heritage to confront contemporary issues – especially as they relate to appropriation, categorization, economics, cultural identity and visual representation. As an artist, he allows the concept of a work to determine his choice of medium. He uses visual experiences to navigate the politics of cultural representation and inspire constructive dialogue with viewers. In 2013, Galanin received a major award from United States Artists, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting the work of living American artists.

Silook (Yupik/Iñupiaq) uses the ancestral ivory dolls of Saint Lawrence, traditionally carved by men, as the basis of her work. She critiques the legacies of colonization in the Arctic and the ongoing sexual abuse and violence perpetrated against Native women in rural and urban communities in Alaska and elsewhere. In 2007, Silook received an award from United States Artists.

Mehner’s (Tlingit/N’ishga) work examines his multicultural heritage and accompanying social expectations and definitions. He draws upon his family’s stories to study the constructs of Native American identity and reclamation of the Tlingit language.

Funding for this exhibition is provided by the Western States Arts Federation and the National Endowment for the Arts. This exhibition was organized by the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles, in partnership with the Anchorage Museum in Alaska.

The MMAC’s hours during the academic year are noon to 3 p.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. Thursday and Friday. The museum is open to the public with a suggested $5 donation. For more information call 406-243-2019 or visit


Note to media: Digital images from the exhibition are available. Call Shawn Whitworth at 406-243-2019 or email to request images.




Contact: Brandon Reintjes, curator of art, Montana Museum of Art & Culture, 406-243-2019,