Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi (Alutiiq) is an art historian, museum consultant and arts administrator based in Homer, Alaska. She completed her PhD at the University of Washington and focuses her research on Alaska Native arts revitalization and Indigenous aesthetics. Nadia currently works at The CIRI Foundation, where she oversees a grant program dedicated to supporting customary Alaska Native arts practices. She serves on the board of the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation.

Conversation Audio Clips

The work Kivetoruk created expanded how the world saw Alaska Native art. His work had a postmodern approach offering commentary on a cultural shift in Nome that was set in motion by western contact. While creating alongside the influx of “painter-explorers” portraying an uninhabited wild place of Alaska, Kivetoruk painted the Inupiat connection and knowledge of the place. He illustrated, in great detail, representations of the tools of hunting, the details of parkas, and the joy of community.

Conversation With Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi: When I think about Alaska’s early modern artists, I think about Kivetoruk Moses. He was part of a generation when Alaska Native artists did not have formal training in painting or drawing. It is a transitional period in Alaska. I see his work as coming from a place of love and joy to represent the world around him. His realistic depictions of life are based on a representation of a subsistence way of life. I see in his work a close relationship between people, animals and environments that he depicts.

Melissa Shaginoff: Indigenous joy and representation, I love that. It is such an important and complex aspect of Kivetoruk’s work. How does this set him apart from other artists or even representation of Indigenous life at the time?

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi: Well, for people who are not familiar with Alaska, they might look at these representations with a lot of romanticism. When I look at his images, I think of them as realistic representations. If we are looking at an image of a hunter and a polar bear, for example, he is representing an animal that he knows well and has grown up with. Alaska Native peoples work very closely with animals, and we know them intimately. Our cultures are based on thousands of years of knowledge of how to hunt and how to live with them. Images representing animals by Alaska Native artists in my mind are intimate, realistic, and based on actual experience. I see a lot of intimacy in his work and I think ‘intimate’ is a good way to characterize his style. His works are not just a depiction of Indigenous lifestyle; they show intimate knowledge of Indigenous ways of being and beliefs.

Many of Moses’ images are still relevant for a way of life that we see and experience today. One image that I can think of illustrates a gentleman wearing snow goggles, and he is standing in front of a stretched his. There’s a dog and a house in the background. It reminds me of what I see when I visit a place like Point Hope or Utqiagvik today. If you are walking around, you might see a scene very similar to what is represented here. You might see polar bear hides hanging up outside. And when you’re walking down the streets, you might see dogs like this that are watching you from outside of the homes.

Melissa Shaginoff: You mentioned an understanding of ice. Can you expand upon that?

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi: I’ve only spent a little bit of time in Alaska’s high Arctic, so my experience knowing sea ice is not the same as someone who has grown up with this. I once spent a summer doing archeology in Utqiagvik. The experience of waking up every day and seeing ice and looking out over a frozen ocean, was such a different perspective. In the far North, you can get these mirages when you look out over the ice, and the ice can look gigantic. When you stand next to the frozen ocean and when you walk on it, you can hear the sounds of the ice creaking and you get the sensation of the animals that are out there and underneath that ice. It’s absolutely awe-inspiring. When I think of an artist who has grown up knowing the ice, hunting on the ice, I think of representing  We shape the land we are on by how we use it. 

Kivetoruk Moses’s representations of this world that he’s actually lived, they’re just absolutely stunning and beautiful. 

If we are comparing how Alaska Native people versus non-Indigenous peoples represent environment, I think there is a difference in how an artist might represent that space. If your family has been living in an environment for hundreds and thousands of years, you feel like you have a place in it, and you feel like you belong there. You know the environment, the environment also knows you and you’re part of it. I think it’s a very different way of representing the world. An artist like Sydney Laurence represents the environment as a hard to penetrate space, a space that seems wild and unknowing. These ways of seeing Alaska, is how we have often been seen rather than through images that we have created ourselves. .

Melissa Shaginoff: Yes, Alaska Native people exist and are in relationship with those landscapes, not at the mercy of it. 

Nadia Jackinsky-Sethi: Maybe it’s because Alaska Native people really know a place well. You think about that place as providing for you and protecting you, because it has all the things that you need in it to help you survive. So, if you’re representing that space, it has this kind of love that’s emanating from it. I mean look at the way that the water is sparkling right there. And, it’s like the water has this spirit, it’s kind of alive. To me, I see a lot of intimacy.

Melissa Shaginoff: Yes, he’s within it. He’s in the picture. Whereas paintings by American artists, there’s a distance. You’re looking at it, like, through a viewfinder. Kivetoruk is very much a part of the environment in the scene he’s creating.