by Joel Isaak, Kenaitze Tribe

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


    One part of my life comes from western culture big city life. The other part of my life is small town rural subsistence native Alaska. I feel that I am wholly each. I am supposed to produce and climb a ladder in a cutthroat world pushing to succeed while being drawn to live in coexistence with the land and resources that surround me.

    I often get asked “Joel what are you?” I usually respond with Danish just to see their reaction. After all I am genetically more Danish and I grew up with many Norwegian traditions that I love. But this is not the answer most are looking for. I quickly fallow with “I am part Native Alaskan as well”, and go into an explanation of my family heritage.

    I speak about my ethnicities as being “part” something for political correctness. But in fact I don’t feel part anything. I feel that I am wholly one person. I have the skills and knowledge to survive in both rural and urban society successfully.
    I wanted to portray these feelings primarily through texture and color. As a direct reflection of feeling torn I literally tore two inch strips of canvas and woven them back together, gessoed it, and began building up well over 40 layers of paint. Red Ocher is a very common pigment used for face paint in Alaska. Red Ocher inspired me to choose red, for its feelings of power, confidence, and life.
    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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