John Hagen


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John Hagen
About the author

My introduction to art and expression was watching my father carve Tlingit style totem poles at his studio. I was encouraged as a youth to follow in my father’s footsteps as a carver, but quickly found that my artist calling was with a camera. Growing up, I didn’t fully appreciate the identity challenges of an Inupiaq artist, like my father, encountered when creating the art of another people. I began to take photography serious in the 1990s when I started to study at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. I worked as a photojournalist at the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner through the 2000s. I slowed my freelance career to finish my BFA at Institute of American Indian Arts. My career as an artist began after graduation. I chose to set up a small artist practice in my hometown of Haines not only because it’s where I feel most connected to the land, but because while there is a lot commercial art available here, there are few artists doing expressive and modern Native art. I explore notions of place and what it means to be Alaska Native through my art. My art is influenced by interaction between people and place. I am Aleut and Inupiaq but grew up in a region historically, and still, inhabited predominately by Tlingits. People often assume I am Tlingit and that this is the area of my ancestors. But it’s not. I have experienced very little of my Aleut or Inupiaq culture. As I have been seeking to define my Alaska native identity, I am drawn to exploring the place I live compared to place my ancestors are from – the differences, the similarities and what it means to my own identity. I use this search for ties to the land to inform my work. I am drawn to urban-wild interfaces, places where the nature and civilization collide. I am often drawn to small islands of nature, surrounded by civilization. I look for places where something wild and organic pokes through our technological trappings and vice versa. In my project “Wild Things,” I looked at how we seek to invoke wildness by bringing bears in effigy, or taxidermy wild animals, to our not so wild places like malls, airports and gift stores.