Holly Nordlum – Iñupiaq Visual Artist

Getting Our Culture Back

55321419015167HollyNordlumPhotoSM.jpgHolly “Mititquq” Nordlum an artist from Kotzebue, was inspired by the cultural research she conducted after a trip to Washington, D.C. in April of 2014. She was selected for the Artist Leadership Program of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), putting her in the capital for two weeks. The program’s focus – to study the artistic processes while researching the Smithsonian Institution collections.

“My intent was to do museum collections research and find as many objects as I could to show my summer students—urban Native students who might not have any idea where they came from or who they are as Native people,” Nordlum said.

Nordlum is an Iñupiaq visual artist, living in Anchorage. A NANA shareholder, she grew in up in Kotzebue. As a young adult she worked at Red Dog Mine in the human resources department. While at Red Dog, she promoted educational programs and scholarships.

“I was going village to village talking about education and I didn’t have a degree,” she explained.

When Nordlum was expecting her first child, she decided the new responsibility was reason enough to go back to school full-time. She earned a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and photography from the University of Alaska Anchorage. Concurrently with her graduation, she began her own business.

“I had neighbors who wanted to commission me for designs, and I started by doing that,” she said.

Nordlum’s favorite art medium is printmaking, but she also likes graphic design, photography, illustrating and creating jewelry.

Her love of art eventually spurred her into other ways she could experience it. The NMAI program she participated in was made possible because of a grant she received. Selection was based on the artists’ proposed research and workshops or public art projects, digital portfolios, resumes, artist statement and community support.

In her application to the program, she listed her involvement in the Anchorage School District’s Project Ki’L. The project seeks to demonstrate that culturally responsive education for preschool to 5th grade Alaska Native and American Indian boys results in higher academic outcomes. It helps parents, community supporters and educators meet the unique needs of potentially at risk Native boys. Project Ki’L also confirms their identity by celebrating their Native heritage and traditions.

The 2014 ASD program for Project Ki’L signed on six Native artists, including Nordlum, to teach the classes. The students practiced being proud of who they are and creating a brotherhood amongst them that would hopefully battle against the issues young native men face in Alaska. They also practiced many traditional activities: spear throwing, building their own traditional weapons, cutting fish, and participating in ceremonial dancing.

Nordlum’s teaching plan included focus on tools and weapons, but also the students’ identities.

“As urban Natives, we can choose what we incorporate into our culture,” she said.

Nordlum’s hope was her students would connect with the hundreds of photos of the Alaskan Native art she researched at the museum. One activity had them pick their favorite images, cut them up and create what they see as their personal identity. In a later project they used those same images to create screens to print on t-shirts.

Another piece of Nordlum’s program with NMAI was to record, through video, her whole experience to Washington, D.C. and her classes at Project Ki’L. Once the film was complete, she presented it to NMAI, posted it on YouTube and shared it at the Alaska Museum during her feature artist spotlight in September.

“Hopefully it lives on through the students,” she said.

Nordlum’s schedule within the community continues to be busy. As far as her creativity, the strategy is to move forward with additions to her first art piece called “Reclamation,” that she is making into a series. The artwork will revolve around what she calls “getting our culture back.” Other topics she will touch on are ideas such as body image and religion.

To follow Nordlum’s work, visit her website and look for her in upcoming art events.

To learn more about her experiences in D.C. connect with NMAI site.