Art & Art History ETDs

Publication Date

Spring 4-13-2020


I focus on contemporary Alaska Native artist, Sonya Kelliher-Combs (Iñupiaq, Athbaskan, Irish, German), her works of art, exhibitions, and her curatorial practices to explain the presentation history of Native American people and how this affects present-day exhibitions. Through her work, I explore the importance of agency of Native people through identity, depictions of themselves, and their people in museum spaces. I examine the history of museum culture as the way in which indigenous agency is removed and reconstructed to fit the needs of interest groups. In contrast, Kelliher-Combs and other advocates attempt to intervene and interrogate the persistence of archaic language, exhibition practices, and seek to reveal the effects on Native people today.

The history of exhibiting Native American people and material culture works from the assumption that objects are final and do not have context. To counter, the methodology that I employ is ecological textility. This is the reading from material to object with the understanding that both material and object are related to other living things, objects, and its physical surroundings. I use this theory to explain the way in which I look at Kelliher-Combs’s works of art and her curatorial practice. Because of this past, Kelliher-Combs using ecological textility, and my studying her art and curated exhibitions using this method, allow for better explanation of works of art and Native American objects, as well as attempts to remove the stigma and stereotypes of Native people that history has prolonged through the reach of museum language and displays.



Document Type


Degree Name

Art History

Level of Degree


Department Name

UNM Department of Art and Art History

First Committee Member (Chair)

Kirsten Buick

Second Committee Member

Kency Cornejo

Third Committee Member

Aaron Fry


Sonya Kelliher-Combs, Alaska Native, Native American, Museum Culture, Native American Display