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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 to the land, to my family, and to Elders. 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. The intimacy of traditional women's work has allowed me to examine the connections between Western and Indigenous cultures. I examine identity through my work. I use techniques learned as a little girl: adorned patterns, symbols and designs infused with meaning.

I'm inspired by the relationship of our ancestors to their environment -- how they used skin, fur and membrane in material culture. The subjects of my work are patterns of history, family, and culture. Through the use of synthetic, organic, traditional and modern materials and techniques I build upon the traditions of my people. Personal symbolism forms the imagery. Symbols speak to history, culture, family, and the life of our people; they also speak about abuse, marginalization and the struggles of indigenous people.

I live in a modern world but still depend on the cultural traditions and values of our people, respect of land, animals, sea and each other. I strive to create works that address these issues.

Artist Statement

Sonya Kelliher-Combs was raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome. Her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Master of Fine Arts is from Arizona State University. Through her mixed media painting and sculpture, Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of the ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaskan context. Her combination of shared iconography with intensely personal imagery demonstrates the generative power that each vocabulary has over the other. Similarly, her use of synthetic, organic, traditional and modern materials moves beyond oppositions between Western/Native culture, self/other and man/nature, to examine their interrelationships and interdependence while also questioning accepted notions of beauty. Kelliher-Combs' process dialogues the relationship of her work to skin, the surface by which an individual is mediated in culture.

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 the international exhibition Arts from the Arctic.

In 2007, Kelliher-Combs was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and is a recipient of the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award and 2010 Alaska Governor's Individual Artist Award.

Her work is included in the collections of the Anchorage Museum, Alaska State Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, Eiteljorg Museum, and National Museum of the American Indian.

Kelliher-Combs currently lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. As an Alaska Native artist and advocate, she has served on the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Board, Alaska State Council on the Arts Visual Arts Advisory, and serves on the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts Board. It is her goal and mission to bring awareness, to educate, and to perpetuate the arts and traditions of the many diverse cultures of Alaska.

Recent exhibitions include Hide, at the National Museum of American Indian Art, New York, NY and the Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Santa Fe and upcoming exhibitions include "This is not a silent movie" an exhibit opening May 2013 at the Craft & Folk Art Museum in Los Angeles and the indigenous quintennial "Sakahan", a major international survey of contemporary Indigenous art from around the world 2013, The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, Canada.