Nicholas Galanin (b. 1979) is an artist of Tlingit ancestry who lives and works in Sitka, Alaska. Trained through apprenticeship and formal study in wood carving, metalwork, and tool making, he uses a range of media, including sculpture and video, to expand his own practice and investigate how “Northwest Coast art” is situated in relation to cultural values, contemporary issues, and global art worlds.
His new work, Raven and the First Immigrant, is on display on the patio just outside the Bill Reid Rotunda, directly facing Reid’s iconic sculpture, The Raven and the First Men.
About the piece, Galanin says:
I never met the late artist Bill Reid or spoke with him, although his work has met me, spoken to me, and both inspired and influenced my artistic journey.
I outsourced the carving of this piece, “Raven and the First Immigrant,” to a (non-Native) chainsaw artist. The piece was installed here at the Museum of Anthropology 30 years to the day after Reid’s sculpture, “The Raven and the First Men,” was unveiled. Mine is an intentionally imperfect reflection of his iconic piece. Both works depict the Raven, a curious trickster, known for feeding into a desire to interfere or change things—like coaxing men and women into the world. Reid’s Raven is a triumph of technical mastery. My reflection is layered with impurities and distortion through its title, process, concept, context, material, scale, installation, and the space it occupies. It is outside, looking in.
Northwest Coast art today is plagued with conservatism. It is notorious for its demand of technical skill in the crafting of cultural imagery. At what point does “Native art” become less perfect, less ideally “Indian,” less predictable and understood? Sovereign creativity is something we must not abandon as indigenous artists. This is the position from which we navigate the world.