Project 40

Allison Warden in the Alaska Gallery

Photo by Michael Conti

Allison Akootchook Warden: “I’m Making Everyone Iñupiaq!”

“Just pretend everyone’s Iñupiaq and treat them as I would Iñupiaq people, and teach them about what that might mean, and that’s done with a lot of humor.” This is how the groundbreaking artist and performer Allison Warden described her current practice and coming collaborations with the Anchorage Museum during the first panel discussion in our Curated Conversations series, just one of her many appearances over the last few months.

Since then, Warden has appeared throughout the museum as a “living diorama,” a zip-tie seamstress, and the leader of a mini-workshop as she worked to produce plastic polar bear fur and a whaling costume-come spacesuit. She installed herself in the museum’s Alaska Gallery permanent exhibition for a whole week, she rapped and engaged with visitors during two stagings of the Out of the Box performance, she 3-D scanned a kikituq (a little whalebone spirit from the museum’s collections), and she challenged conventional notions of representation with a panel of Indigenous avant garde artists from throughout Alaska and beyond. On Aug. 7 she will create yet another performance. These and other events have contributed to the Museum Interventions and Polar Lab series that inject critical Alaskan voices into the exhibition Arctic Ambitions as well as our permanent exhibits and the museum as a whole. Through her participation in these initiatives, Warden is contributing to the museum’s program of making the museum a space of conversation and production.

But she is also preparing for her two-month-long solo exhibition, where she will be in residence in the museum’s Brian E. Davis Chugach Gallery for the entire exhibition period of Oct. 7 to Dec. 1, 2016. The gallery will become Unipkaaġusiksuġuvik (the place of the future/ancient), where museum visitors will be welcomed and treated with hospitality, and ceremony can be reintroduced: “I’m making my own house, and people will come into the house and I’ll be the hostess and host of that space […] Not really my house, but a ceremonial house, and what that might look like, not today, but if it was caught between the distant, ancient past and the super, super future.” As a result of her conversations and research with elders in her own community, Warden and community members will perform deeply significant ceremonies that have not been conducted for many decades after colonial incursions and upheavals that have enacted massive trauma in Indigenous homelands worldwide. In connection with our efforts to make the museum a space of conversation and activity, Allison Warden is turning our galleries into living spaces that foster inclusion and participation as well as cultural resurgence.

As the artist notes, “I’m learning more about my culture, and how ingenious we are, continue to be, and I’m giving something back to my people at the same time.”