Through the medium of rap and performance, interdisciplinary hip-hop artist Allison Warden (Iñupiaq, Native Village of Kaktovik) of Anchorage, Alaska engages her audience with stories and themes of the Iñupiaq people, paying homage to tradition while bringing a fresh perspective to contemporary issues.
Warden’s rap name – AKU-MATU – honors the memory of her great-Uncle Matumeak and her great-grandfather Akootchook. In looking for her inspiration, she asks “What would a polar bear say if he could rap? Or a caribou, or a whale? What about if an Ancestor came back so far from the past that it actually circles around and becomes the future?” Warden uses performance and irreverence to engage her audiences, conscious of the power of hip-hop to broach unorthodox themes – and appreciation for its aural resonance with traditional Iñupiaq sounds and drum beats.
She is an engaged community member, particularly passionate about awakening Indigenous youth to their potential and voice. Every aspect of her performances – from her lyrics to her costumes and integration of Iñupiaq dance – honors her Ancestors and asserts the continuity of Iñupiaq tribal sovereignty over their land. “I create music as a way to convey the psychological impacts of rapid colonization on our traditional territories and share possible strategies for navigating forward through the impacts of climate change and the push to drill for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, which encompasses our village.”
The breadth and impact of Warden’s work has been recognized through many residencies and awards, including the Alaska Governor’s Award for the Arts and Humanities for work with youth and a grant from the Art Matters Foundation, which honors artists whose work breaks ground aesthetically and socially.
My story as an artist is interwoven with theatre, performance art, music, installation, visual arts and literary arts. All year long, I work quietly in different mediums, preparing projects for later debut. Akin to serving on a whaling crew, all of the different activities serve a similar goal: to bring the perspectives of my Ancestors forward into today, igniting fires within others to work for their people in an omni-directional way.
~ Allison Akootchook Warden
“Indigenous Inter-Disciplinary Art – A Way to Inspire Conversations within Community” presented by Allison Warden at TEDx Anchorage, 2011.