As mixed media artist, Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq/Athabaskan) uses her paintings and sculptures to chronical her personal struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaskan context.
Raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome, Kelliher-Combs earned her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of Alaska and a Master of Fine Arts degree from Arizona State University. She was a featured artist in the Hide: Skin as Material and Metaphor exhibit (2010), curated and developed at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI), which traveled to the Museum of Contemporary Native Art (MoCNA) in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her contributions to the arts are widely respected, and in 2007 She was honored as an Eiteljorg Museum Fellow.
Kelliher-Combs used her National Artist Fellowship from the Native Arts and Cultures Foundation to fund work on a solo exhibition and the opportunity to learn from and work with a Native American master printer. Her solo exhibition, titled New Work: Sonya Kelliher-Combs, was featured at the Gallery of Contemporary Art in Anchorage, Alaska in 2011. Featuring recent work as well as paintings from HIDE: Skin as Material and Metaphor, the exhibition was well received by visitors and reviewers. She also took part in a print making workshop taught by Melanie Yazzie (Diné) at Alaska Fairbanks University. Yazzie, a professor of art at the University of Colorado, shared her techniques with Kelliher-Combs and students, who spent two days learning and working on print making techniques together. This workshop produced MONOPRINT, an exhibition featuring work from all who participated in the workshop.
The themes found throughout Kelliher-Combs’ work draw from her Inupiaq/Athabaskan heritage, family, history, and sense of place. As she says of her work this year, “The most valuable thing for an artist is TIME, the time being able to focus and work in the studio is invaluable. This grant has enabled me to create two new installations, which I consider to be ‘break-through’ pieces.”