Alaska-born Nicholas Galanin makes art about modern perspectives on Native American culture. His heritage and unique training in both traditional Native art and contemporary art give him a sharp perspective and authority on themes surrounding Native American identity. He applies his perspective across an array of media including metal, wood, photography, and ceramic and he uses a variety of vehicles for his messages such as installation art, sculpture, jewelry, and fashion design. Each of his projects confidently navigates the politics of cultural representation, articulating sensitive but important ideas that are too often avoided.
Above image: Nicholas Galanin, I dreamt I could fly, 2013, 60 porcelain arrows
“Culture cannot be contained as it unfolds,” he explains in his artist statement. “My art enters this stream at many different points, looking backwards, looking forwards, generating its own sound and motion. I am inspired by generations of Tlingit creativity and contribute to this wealthy conversation through active curiosity. There is no room in this exploration for the tired prescriptions of the ‘Indian Art World’ and its institutions. Through creating I assert my freedom.”
In The Imaginary Indian Galanin appropriates manufactured Northwest Coast masks and decorates the ceramic novelty item with French toile. The work juxtaposes histories and cultures to compare cultural drift and the authentic versus the inauthentic. In The Imaginary Indian, Galanin is the appropriator of French culture, but he recently leveraged the appropriation-driven hipster fashion trend to create a tongue-in-cheek product. His clever Indian head patterned bowtie titled I Looooove Your Culture: Hipsters in Headdresses, released by the Native-made fashion label Beyond Buckskin Boutique, subversively plants his message onto a commercial item.
Galanin’s art connects his Native heritage and contemporary culture. “I don’t want to force them to sit together,” he tells Hyperallergic, “you have to use your own unique perspective, we all have one. Use your own unique perspective and try to contribute and not just consume.”