Credible, Small Secrets 2022

Sonya Kelliher-Combs
Pop-Aganda: Revolution & Iconography: April 16, 2022 – October 2, 2022
Printed fabric, human hair, nylon thread, glass bead, steel pin

Credible is a series addressing the overwhelming abuse of the Catholic Church in the State of Alaska.


Title of the work: Credible II
Materials: Acrylic polymer, paper map, human hair, birch panel 

Title of the work: Credible, Idiot Strings
Materials: Printed fabric, wool, steel wire, nylon thread, glass bead

Title of the work: Credible, Alaska
Materials: Projected and painted video installation 

capable of being believed; convincing
Worthy of belief; trustworthy

Credible is a series addressing the overwhelming abuse of the Catholic Church in the State of Alaska. It continues a series I have been exploring in 2007. These paintings represent the 35 villages that have credible claims of abuse by the hand of those sent to save them. Below each work is a list of those accused. This information was generously shared by Kyle Hopkins from the Anchorage Daily News, his research was obtained from Jesuits West and supplemented with a report by the Catholic Diocese of Fairbanks that lists “all known individuals, including priests, religious, lay employees and volunteers against whom a complaint of sexual abuse has been filed by one or more individuals” and against whom the abuse has been proven, admitted or “credibly accused.” These are the credible claims the Church acknowledges – we all know there are many more victims all around the world whom have died of countless diseases; mental illness, suicide, alcoholism & drug abuse – before this information came to light. 

Artist Statement

Through visual art, community engagement, curation and advocacy Kelliher-Combs works to create opportunity and feature Indigenous voices and the work of contemporary artists who through their work inform and encourage social action. Her personal mixed-media visual art focuses on the changing north and our relationship to nature and each other. 

Traditional women’s work has taught her to appreciate the intimacy of intergenerational knowledge and material histories. These experiences and skills have allowed Kelliher-Combs to examine the connections between Western and Indigenous cultures, and to investigate notions of interwoven identity through her work. Personal and cultural symbolism forms the imagery. These symbols speak to history, culture, family and the life of her people. They also speak about abuse, marginalization and the historical and contemporary struggles of Indigenous peoples. Kelliher-Combs currently lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska. 

About the Artist

Sonya Kelliher-Combs was raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome. Her Bachelor of Fine Arts degree is from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and Master of Fine Arts is from Arizona State University. Through her mixed media painting, sculpture and installation Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of the ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaskan context. Her combination of shared iconography with intensely personal imagery demonstrates the generative power that each vocabulary has over the other. Similarly, her use of synthetic, organic, customary and modern materials moves beyond oppositions between Western/Native culture, self/other and man/nature, to examine their interrelationships and interdependence. Kelliher-Combs’ process dialogues the relationship of her work to skin, the surface by which an individual is mediated in culture. 

Kelliher-Combs’ work has been shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions in Alaska, the United States and internationally, including the national exhibition Changing Hands 2: Art without Reservation and SITELINES: Much Wider Than a Line. She is a recipient of the prestigious United States Arts Fellowship, Joan Mitchell Fellowship, Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art, Rasmuson Fellowship and is a recipient of the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award and 2010 Alaska Governor’s Individual Artist Award. Her work is included in the collections of the IAIA Museum of Contemporary Native Art, Anchorage Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, The National Museum of the American Indian and the Whitney Museum of American Art. As an Alaska Native artist and advocate, she has served on the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Board, Alaska State Council on the Arts Visual Arts Advisory, and the Institute of American Indian and Alaska Native Arts Board.

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