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Behind the lens: Nicholas Galanin on Get Comfortable

Nov 07, 2022


Andrea Severin, Manager of Interpretation and Docents

Part of  these categories:: Exhibitions, Collection


Nicholas Galanin is a Lingít, Unangax̂ multi-disciplinary artist based in Sitka, Alaska. Through concept, form, image, and sound, his work reflects his Indigenous perspective and connections to the land, marrying incisive observation and critical thinking to advocate for social and environmental justice. Several of Galanin’s works are currently on view in the Carter-organized exhibition Speaking with Light: Contemporary Indigenous Photography. We had the opportunity to chat with Galanin to learn about his creative process and discuss Get Comfortable, on view in the exhibition through January 22.

Profile headshot of a Native American man wearing headphones woven from grass.

Multi-disciplinary Lingít and Unangax̂ artist Nicholas Galanin

On Get Comfortable:

NG: Get Comfortable is a photograph and an intervention of sorts. Like a lot of my work, this one is based on our relationship to our history with the land. During colonization, a lot of our place names were actively removed, erased, and renamed with colonial settler language. Connecting to both our land and our history, this work speaks to our erasure pretty blatantly. In this photograph, “River” is crossed out and “Land” is written over it.

Get Comfortable also speaks to comfort—ideas of comfort or discomfort for settler communities or those who occupy Indigenous land, all the way down to the legislation and rights that the government implements and imposes upon our communities to remove and erase us.

The process behind this work of art was graffiti, and then of course, documenting it in photographic form. It connects to a later work, Never Forget, Indian Land, and the aspect of how we continue to navigate this world still. I think it’s been a natural progression for me to work with land in certain ways because the relationship there is so important to my culture.

On what visitors should take away:

NG: Get Comfortable allows for access to perspective. If somebody feels discomfort in this conversation, then maybe they should take some time to understand why. We’re faced with so much violence in our Indigenous communities continually. That violence surfaces through the renaming of land, through the removal of our children from our families, the removal of us from place, and the removal of our access to sustenance for survival, all based on continual colonization. Where do you stand within this conversation?

On working across various media:

NG: I started my training as an artist in woodcarving and more customary artistic processes that I still partake in. But early on, I realized there are so many romanticized ideas about who or what we are based on material, language, and pre-colonial ideas of authenticity. For me, that is highly problematic because, as Indigenous people, we’re continually battling for a voice and for humanizing our experience and existence. So many of these pre-colonial aspects of our art and culture have been removed. This takes place in museum collections: Is this or isn't this Indigenous art? Did you use these tools? Those are modern tools. There are myths that try to freeze us in time and it’s really outrageous and tiring how continual that has been for generations.

My practice is none of that. My practice has freed what I would say is creative sovereignty. I can lead the way based on demonstrating and doing. And then it’s up to you to understand that.