Sonya Kelliher-Combs is an artist of mixed decent: Iñupiaq from the North Slope of Alaska, Athabascan from the Interior, German and Irish. Her family, cultures and relationship to the land influence all that she does. It is because of this, she chooses to live and work in Alaska.
Through use of synthetic, organic, traditional and modern materials and techniques, she builds upon the traditions of her people. Personal and cultural symbolism forms the imagery. These symbols speak to history, culture, family and the life of her peoples. They also speak about abuse, marginalization and the historical and contemporary struggles of Indigenous peoples.
Kelliher-Combs’ work has been shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions in Alaska and the contiguous United States, including the national exhibition Changing Hands 2: Art without Reservation and SITELINES: Much Wider Than a Line. She is a recipient of the prestigious United States Arts Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Fellowship, Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, Rasmuson Fellowship and was awarded the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award and 2010 Alaska Governor’s Individual Artist Award.
Sonya in her own words:
"Growing up in Nome, Alaska, I spent summers at our camp where we worked, hunted and gathered food and supplies for the winter. It was there where I learned to listen; listened to learn from family, community members and nature. Through observation and the practice of time-honored traditions -- skin sewing, beading, and food preparation -- I realized my role as Woman, Daughter, Sister, Wife and Artist. I'm inspired by the relationship of our ancestors to their environment -- how they used skin, fur and membrane in material culture.
Alongside my large-scale sculpture, painting and installation I also create utilitarian everyday objects. It is my personal feeling that these handmade beautifully crafted functional objects enrich my life. Each work that we have in our collection has a story and I hope that my craft objects do that for others."
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