Project 67

Muktuk and Gasoline

Ellis Doeven

Angela Movie Star, Point Hope, 2015  

Muktuk and Gasoline – The People of Point Hope (2009-2015)

This project is about the community of Point Hope, a small Inupiaq village in the North West of Alaska. This is the birth village of my partner whom I met there on my first visit to the community in 2008. We live in Amsterdam, have a daughter and visit Point Hope at least once a year.

Point Hope is the longest continuously inhabited village on the North American continent. The Inupiat have lived here for thousands of years, some records say over 10,000. The location of the community of 900 people is remote. The nearest village is 160 km away. Access is only possible by air. The climate is extreme. Nothing grows other then tundra. Food has always been gathered by hunting the animals that pass by on their migration.

Point Hope is now a modern community with an ancient core. This has fascinated me from the start. The social structure of the community is strong, built on Inupiaq values and the need for survival. In the last century, after contact with the Western culture, the community has been going through a roller coaster of changes and developments bringing comfort but also resulting in loss of language, of culture and of identity. Life is not easy in the Arctic, even with modern technology. The clash between the linear culture of the West, always looking for development, and the cyclic culture of the Inuit people, that aims to live in harmony with nature, has left damages. And in a way, it is still about survival, especially for the younger generations. While their grandparents grew up in a time where it was very clear what was expected from you, these times are everything but clear. And not everybody manages to find his or her way. I see these kids grow up and come of age.

With this project I aim to sketch a portrait of Point Hope and it’s people and this is an on-going process. I learn about the community, the culture, the people and myself on every trip. I am intrigued by differences and similarities with my own culture and upbringing. I love observing my now 5-year-old daughter grow up with a leg in each culture, effortlessly.

The title, Muktuk and Gasoline, refers to the smell of the village. A distinct mixture in the air of muktuk (whale) and gasoline. The old and the new, now very connected.