Nicholas Galanin. Untitled, 2019. Photographic print. Courtesy of the artist.

Fair Warning: A Sacred Place

Nicholas Galanin

September 21, 2019 – January 5, 2020

West Vitrines, Bill Boyle Artport


Audio loops play recordings of contemporary auctions of Native American art. The auctioneers repeatedly announce “fair warning” before “sold.” Who is selling, who is buying, and what relationship or claim do they make to the art and culture they are trafficking? The installation insists on the presence and absence of Indigenous people in cultural consumption and creation through the intersection of contemporary Indigenous creative practice within non-Indigenous museum spaces built to contain historic Indigenous production. Absence of skill, technology, and Indigenous knowledge is made palpable in the photographs of empty museum cases where only categorization and compartments remain. The installation’s audio continually issues a “fair warning” in conversation with these images. The auctioneer is offering fair warning to those purchasing stolen cultural objects, but no warning to the communities whose cultures and artists created the objects.

Together, the images and audio speak to loss of access for Indigenous communities to cultural inheritance sold at auction without permission. At the same time they point to the implications for cultural institutions that have built their reputations and collections on theft, if objects are allowed to return to their communities. The installation asserts the presence of contemporary Indigenous people, the capacity to see without being seen, and the desire to exist without being fed upon.

– Nicholas Galanin

Part of Festival of Cool: The Arctic


Nicholas Galanin’s (Tlingit/Unangax) work offers perspective rooted in connection to land and an intentionally broad engagement with contemporary culture. For over a decade, Galanin has been embedding incisive observation into his work, investigating and expanding intersections of culture and concept in form, image, and sound.

His works embody critical thought. They are vessels of knowledge, culture and technology – inherently political, generous, unflinching, and poetic.

Galanin engages past, present and future – through two- and three-dimensional works and time-based media – exposing intentionally obscured collective memory and barriers to the acquisition of knowledge. This includes creating images and sound moving in time and animals fixed in space. He splinters tourist industry replica carvings into pieces, destroying commodification of culture and evidencing the damage. His carving practice includes cultural customary objects, petroglyphs in sidewalks and coastal rock, masks cut from anthropological texts, and engraving handcuffs used to remove Indigenous children from their families.

Beyond the walls of his studio, Galanin designs and fabricates ceramic riot gear, arrows in flight, and curio masks covered in delftware patterns, employing materials and processes to expand and forward dialogue on what artistic production is and how it can be used to envision possibility.

His concepts determine his materials and processes. His practice is expansive and includes numerous collaborations with visual and recording artists. Galanin is a member of two artist collectives: Black Constellation and Winter Count.

Galanin apprenticed with master carvers and jewellers, earned his BFA at London Guildhall University in Jewellery Design and his MFA in Indigenous Visual Arts at Massey University in New Zealand. He lives and works with his family in Sitka, Alaska.