White Carver by Nicholas Galanin

Hessel Museum of Art Annandale-on-Hudson, NY

Nov 18, 2023


White Carver is an ongoing performance reflecting the legacy of appropriation and demonstration in Indigenous art, particularly by non-Indigenous individuals. Mimicry of Indigenous culture has homogenized North West Coast visual languages to generate capital without benefit to the Indigenous communities responsible for developing these art forms. Galanin’s work reverses the gaze toward the White Carver, modeled after the fetishization Indigenous artists and cultures are subjected to by non-Indigenous markets and consumers. The piece is built around the labor of an unnamed white man who is attempting to replicate Galanin’s work; the White Carver’s own reputation and enforced privilege is built on the attempted destruction of the culture he is now imitating.

The installation separates the White Carver from the viewer and the work he’s attempting to re-create with a velvet rope. Outside the rope, a vitrine contains I Looooooove Your Culture, Fine Woodworking, a yellow-cedar male masturbation tool (commonly known as a “pocket pussy”) hand-carved by Nicholas Galanin. The cedar carving, done with traditional material and tools, makes clear the intersection of cultural fetish with sexual fetish—each targets desire for a single part of an otherwise ignored and devalued whole. Galanin’s carving is mistaken by the White Carver for a customary object to be mined as a resource.

Nicholas Galanin, a Tlingit and Unangax̂ multidisciplinary artist, creates works that explore contemporary culture through his deep connection to the land. His art integrates keen observation to examine the convergence of culture and concept expressed through various mediums such as form, image, and sound. Galanin’’s creations serve as powerful conduits of knowledge, culture, and technology, encompassing inherent political messages while remaining generous, unwavering, and poetic.

Perry Hohlstein is a filmmaker living and working in New Lebanon, NY.

Photo: Thatcher Keats.