nailing it

The MFAs got to hang a small works-in-progress show in the University gallery this past week.  

Ceramic work in the foreground by Dustin Auerbach.

You should appreciate this timelapse a lot, because the first time I ever had to hang any of my own photographs (which was only actually five years ago), I ended the day sitting on the floor, crying, surrounded by bent nails and three different types of hammers.

Exhibitions was not my forte. I've gotten a lot better, obviously, and also sworn to never hang salon-style again, no matter how much the work would benefit.

I hung three 11x17 pigment prints in plain white frames (my go-to when someone, like my advisor, makes me use them at all) and called it a day. I knew my work would contrast pretty harshly with what my peers would be showing, and I didn't want to call any more attention to that than I had to. I did, however, make some very specific choices about titles, which I don't usually do and have been exploring more lately.

Because the show title was very generic, and our statements were hung separately from the work, I wanted to be very purposeful about naming the photos. I'm not a big fan of overly verbose or descriptive titles, and haven't used them at all in the past. 


From left to right: When We Thought It Was Cancer (I Wish It Was Cancer), May 2013; I Don't Live In This House Any More/ Does Anyone Live In This House Any More?, une 2015; After Physical Therapyctober 2015.

My art history professor/committee member said they made her cry so I guess they're good titles.  

"can you be on a plane to barrow tomorrow at 6 am?"

I got asked this question last November, and I answered "sure, why not?". 

I got to meet some incredible people, ate fantastic Inupiaq dishes, and hang out with Edna MacLean for 24 hours.

Edna is something of an Alaskan treasure. She's a professor emeritus at the University of Alaska Fairbanks, hanging previously taught in the Alaska Native Languages program. This past September, UAF Press published Edna's North Slope Inupiaq-English dictionary- a lexicon that took Edna and dozens of Inupiaq elders nearly 40 years to complete.

Aurora Magazine, UAF's alumni & friends publication, was strapped for photographer options when they called me up asking if I wanted to spend a day in Barrow, so I don't know how much of it was faith and how much of it was desperation, but I jumped at the chance. Barrow is the northernmost incorporated community in North America, with around 4,500 people occupying a narrow strip of Alaska's Arctic Slope coast at the confluence of the Bering and Chukchi Seas.

Read the rest of the feature on Edna, and see the rest of my photos (including the cover!) in the Spring 2015 issue of Aurora.


meandering thoughts on parts of a whole

I've been doing a lot of thinking about identity and belonging lately.

(This may seem like a nebulous statement, but stay with me.)

I've been answering a lot of questions in the last month or so related to the work that I'm doing with other Pacific Islanders. Who counts or doesn't count and why, why I even wanted to do this work in the first place, what the work is going to look like in the long run. Some of these questions were easier to answer than others, and some of the questions I don't yet have an answer for. I'm glad the questions are happening, but some days they weigh heavier on my mind than others.

The Pacific Daily News published an article about a week ago titled "Who counts as being Chamorro?" and even just the title set my teeth on edge. The author ends the article (which posed more questions than it answered) noting that that question, "who counts?" is a "great way to start a family discussion- or a bar fight." 

Blood quantum has been used by and against People of Color for hundreds of years, although my knowledge is limited largely to it's uses in the US and the Pacific. The One-Drop rule, Tribal registration, schools for native youth, land ownership, college scholarships- for better or for worse, being counted counts for something. 

Even though I'm mixed, even though my Father is white, it was pointed out to me from a very young age that I had to be something else. I didn't understand the concept of passing for white until late in high school, but it was an idea projected on to me from early childhood. I couldn't ever have a "typical" white American experience because I didn't pass- and so have spent my entire life fielding questions about where I'm "really" from. If I'm feeling particularly tired of the question in a given moment, I'll continue to deadpan-respond with "Virginia" until the person gets frustrated and drops the issue. What they're really asking me/themselves is, "what kind of brown are you?" "Should I be uncomfortable with your presence in this space?" "Am I going to tolerate your answer?" "Should I value your existence less based on your answer?"

A while back, I got an anonymous message from someone asking about how to start exploring a newfound part of their heritage without being appropriative or insulting or stepping on toes. I didn't have a very clear answer for them, and so I said what I could and then posed the question to my larger Pacific community to see if someone else could verbalize the complicated thoughts I was having. In part, it was a difficult question for me to answer because it's a process that I'm still undergoing. Although I generally self-identify as a Pacific Islander, that's a pretty unclear statement. I am a person of Pacific Islander heritage, who was born and has lived their entire life on the Mainland. My experience as an Islander will always be different than the experiences of someone who has grown up in the Pacific, who has lived their life grounded in the place their family comes from. I don't speak, read or write Palauan. Unless I become a citizen of Palau, potentially forfeiting my US citizenship in the process, I can never own land there- not even the land that legally belongs to my mother, who has retained her Palauan citizenship for the entirety of her time living Stateside for the express purpose of land ownership. In the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas, as far as I'm aware, you have to prove that you're at least 25% Chamorro or Carolinian in order to own land. Just like in Palau, these laws were passed initially to protect what was left of their islands from further annexation by the United States (among other reasons). It makes sense, and I'm not against the laws. But where does that leave me?

These are some- though certainly not all- of the roots with which I am grounding this body of work. Children of any diaspora straddle a thin line between worlds, and it is vital that they know they're not alone. I saw little to no representation of myself in film, music, television, books or politics. I didn't know what other people like me were out there doing, and so it was difficult to picture where I could fit in. I grew up fully alienated from both of the worlds that I was made from, and though my experiences were certainly not the worst of either world, that doesn't mean it wasn't difficult. I am finally at a point in my life where I am reaching out and connecting with the community that I have wanted to be a part of for my entire life, and I want other people like me to see that too.

what is the group name for the palins?

…a flock of Palins? A disturbance of Palins? A screeching of Palins?

Since moving to Alaska, many friends from home have managed to weave Sarah Palin into our conversations once or twice. Although I haven't seen her, or her infamous backyard, I was fascinated by these photos released by the Anchorage Police Department today. About a month ago, a fight broke out at a birthday party at which some of the Palins were present, and the police were called. They released the evidence photos today on the APD website, and I spent a long time this morning considering them.

Evidence photos are not intended to be works of art, and yet I find myself drawn to these images. Photography has been considered for a long time to be a reflection of reality, and only in the last decade or so has begun to be distrusted as much (if not more so) than paintings or drawings. The argument is one any photojournalist is familiar with, and even Dutch student Zilla van den Born knows all too well. But we still use photography, despite all it's deceptive ability, to document and to record. These evidence photos appear un-doctored to the naked eye- and I have confidence that if they were examined more closely, their data would reflect that as well. The images that feature human subjects intentionally obscure the identities of those depicted. The harsh flash and the apparent disregard for composition or framing marks these images as intentional records rather than a constructed reality or conceptual framework. And yet, these are also the traits that keep me drawn to the imagery- a kind of half-way between Nan Goldin and Paul Seawright comes to mind.

Nan Goldin,  Nan one month after being battered,   1984

Nan Goldin, Nan one month after being battered, 1984

 Paul Seawright  fts  Sectarian Murder

 Paul Seawright fts Sectarian Murder

Regardless of the intent behind the Palin evidence photos, their intrigue is undeniable. Whether the intrigue is born out of the family's fame or simply the strangeness of these specific pictures remains to be seen.