Ancestral Portrait

by Joel Isaak, Kenaitze Tribe

  • Print: 11"h x 8.5"w
  • Open Edition
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    Joel IsaakKenaitze Indian TribeArchival Print

    Ancestral Portrait

    Growing up in Soldotna spending summers fishing, being outdoors, and processing large game in the fall is an important part of my artistic process. I love working with live materials, such as roots, bark, skins, and various other animal parts. I learned how to manipulate many of these materials through my desire to pursue the historical material process of my Athabascan heritage.

    Each time I check on a hide drying I am inspired by the change in size, color, and translucency. Seeing people walk behind a stretched fully dried hide inspired me to use moose hides as screens for silhouettes. The texture, color, movement, and individual nature of each hide guides me in placement of the shadow projected on each hide.

    I make contemporary native masks that I sculpt as an ancestral family tree. I gathered photographs of my male ancestors and combined their bone structure into one combined face and gave the face my profile. When hanging a show of these ancestral family masks I find that they interact with each other in different capacities. One of the defining factors is the shadows the masks make. Once I started experimenting with shadows projected onto moose hide it felt right use the masks shadows combined with my own to continue the idea of family portraiture on a new surface.
    I am a Kenaitze Indian Tribe member from the Dena'ina region in South Central Alaska. I grew up in a small town on the coast spending summers fishing, being outdoors, and processing large game in the fall. I grew up in a Native Alaskan, Northern European home. My current work is reflecting this duality. I enjoy combining native materials and process with more modern industrial process. Through mixed media including; paintings, glass work, bronze casting, wood working, hide and skin work, and atmospheric fired ceramics I strive to communicate and explored some of the issues that arise as a result of Alaska Native culture being impacted by western civilization.

    I began exploring the impact of clashing of cultures when I discovered that have family that was killed during the holocaust. Shortly after this I began hearing stories about how my Native Alaskan grandmother was mistreated during boarding school in Alaska. These types of horrific life experiences are not spoken about very often.

    Until recently I, like my grandparents, did not tell people about discriminatory experiences I had growing up. That changed for me when several people I cared for were sexually assaulted in the same year. I felt rage towards these people and the people who had demeaned me. I finally began talking with people close to me about what had taken place. These conversations sparked within me the idea of my work conveying ideas of forgiveness and rebirth as I began to heal from these hard life lessons.
  • Archival Pigment Print
  • Open Edition
  • Signed
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