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Kelliher-CombsphotosKevinG.Smith.
By Beverly Sanders
Animal skins—hides—have played an im-
portant role in traditional Nat...
Myrephotos©NadiaMyre,licensedbyCARCC,OntarioandVAGA,NewYork.
“pores” or piercing them with metal grom-
mets, the last sugg...
Copyright of American Craft is the property of American Craft Council and its content may not be copied or
emailed to mult...
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Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor

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Beverly Sanders reviews the 2010 art exhibition Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor at the George Gustav Heye Center Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, hightlighting the artwork of Nadia Myre and Sonia Kelliher-Combs in the August-September 2010 issue of American Craft magazine.

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Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor

  1. 1. Kelliher-CombsphotosKevinG.Smith. By Beverly Sanders Animal skins—hides—have played an im- portant role in traditional Native Ameri- can culture and identity, and the National Museum of the American Indian has regu- larly exhibited such venerable objects as beaded deerskin garments and paintings on buffalo hide. But this two-part exhibition, curated by Kathleen Ash-Milby, is not about tradition. Contemporary artists who are known in the art world but retain strong ties to their Native communities were in- vited to address skin as an actual art mate- rial and as a vehicle for comments on a range of social issues. The first part high- lights two makers known for multimedia work who find in skin or its representation a medium for revealing personal statements in ways that are simultaneously sophisti- cated and primal. Alaskan-born Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Inupiaq/Athabascan) combines organic and synthetic materials in works that con- vey intimacy in their tactility, yet are baf- fling in their hidden meanings. In the series Walrus Family Portraits, she layers ghostly pouch-shaped walrus stomachs within a Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor George Gustav Heye Center Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian New York, ny Part One: Sonya Kelliher-Combs and Nadia Myre Mar. 6 – Aug. 1, 2010 nmai.si.edu Part Two of “Hide” will be at the museum Sept. 4, 2010 – Jan. 16, 2011. Two makers who find in tin a medium for revealing personal watements in ways xat are simultaneously sophiwicated and primal. medium of acrylic polymer, augmenting the texture with nylon threads, glass beads and reindeer fur. The surface is mottled and bumpy; the colors enhance the play of light. The hanging threads remind one of fur trim on a parka. The pouch form reappears three-dimen- sionally in Kelliher-Combs’s wall installa- tion Small Secrets, a row of diminutive fin- gertip-shaped containers made of walrus stomach bristling with human hair, glass beads and nylon thread. They resemble del- icate empty shells that once enclosed a form or substance. Common Thread, a similar but larger installation, comprises three rows of pouches, stitched from reindeer and sheep rawhide rather than stomach membrane. Even more redolent of her Alaska heri- tage is her series Brand, in which Kelliher- Combs has brought together walrus stom- ach, seal intestines, reindeer, polar bear, elk and moose fur, seal skin and the like, as well as acrylic polymer, nylon thread, paper and cotton to create 15 panels. She aggressively “processes” these skins, stitch- ing them or branding them with circular 032 american craft aug/sep 10 reviewed 0910_RE_Hide_SHIP.indd 320910_RE_Hide_SHIP.indd 32 6/25/10 9:42:30 AM6/25/10 9:42:30 AM
  2. 2. Myrephotos©NadiaMyre,licensedbyCARCC,OntarioandVAGA,NewYork. “pores” or piercing them with metal grom- mets, the last suggesting human domina- tion of nature. This work is about “making things our own, ownership and control,” she has said. Unlike Kelliher-Combs, Nadia Myre (Anishinaabe), an artist living in Montreal, does not use organic materials to comment on skin. Her preoccupation is scars, and more than half of her part of the exhibit is devoted to The Scar Project, a communal work. Since 2005, Myre has held work- shops in which she provides participants with 10-inch-square canvases and invites them to render their own scars—bodily or mental—by cutting and “suturing” the raw cloth. The 240 canvases (out of some 500 in the project) are arranged on both sides of a large gallery. Although much of the work seemed primitive as sewing, the cumulative effect is powerful and visually harmonious because of the nearly monochromatic ef- fect—beige, white and light brown threads against the off-white canvas. What might have been presented as bloody wounds or disfiguring stitches are abstracted, even aestheticized, by the subtle colors. Another Above: Sonya Kelliher-Combs Salmon Walrus Family Portrait, 2009-10, acrylic polymer, walrus stomach, reindeer fur, mixed media, 67¹⁄³ x 39¾ in. Opposite: Sonya Kelliher-Combs Small Secrets, 2009, detail, walrus stomach, human hair, mixed media, dimensions variable. Right: Nadia Myre The Scar Project, 2005- present, detail of single canvas, 10 x 10 x 2 in. Left: Nadia Myre The Scar Project, 2005-present, detail of installation, cut and sewn canvases, stories on paper, each 10 x 10 x 2 in. work, Landscape of Sorrow, also of canvas and cotton thread but done by Myre alone, is a grouping of six horizontal canvases, each depicting a long scar through a slit in the canvas “healed” by irregular stitching. The theme continues in Scarscapes, sev- eral small rectangles made from glass beads and cotton thread, each with the central image of a black scar against a white back- ground. On the wall nearby are greatly en- larged photographic images of details of the beaded works. Such pieces indicate Myre’s pride in her Native heritage and its beading tradition. Such pride is conveyed in a more visceral way in Inkanatatation, a short digi- tal video documenting the artist having her arm tattooed in a design of three red feath- ers. It is meant to suggest an alteration in the Canadian flag—the replacement of the maple leaf with feathers—as a way of honor- ing the country’s aboriginal peoples. With its mingling of red ink and blood, this film returns the “ouch” factor to what has been presented at a remove in Myre’s scar instal- lations, and reminds the viewer that skin, real skin, is the subject of this exhibition. The catalog is $23.95. aug/sep 10 american craft 033 0910_RE_Hide_SHIP.indd 330910_RE_Hide_SHIP.indd 33 6/25/10 9:42:35 AM6/25/10 9:42:35 AM
  3. 3. Copyright of American Craft is the property of American Craft Council and its content may not be copied or emailed to multiple sites or posted to a listserv without the copyright holder's express written permission. However, users may print, download, or email articles for individual use.

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