The Remnant series consists of shadow boxes with objects from the natural world, items from Alaskan wildlife, such as bones, organs, and feathers. “Remnant can have multiple meanings, but the idea is that something left behind is maybe found, unearthed, discovered,” she said in a recent interview. “I take these pieces of natural material and they’re embedded under this synthetic skin, this membrane that’s containing them, and that’s reminiscent of real skin or hide. It’s a commentary on this Western concept of making things out of synthetic materials because it’s supposed to be better and last longer, but look at what’s happened as a result of that: plastics are around for millennia, choking our oceans and waterways and killing our wildlife. A lot of it is a commentary on how our environment is changing rapidly. Living in a place like this (Alaska), there are complicated issues about wildlife management, sports hunting, subsistence hunting, indigenous rights, access to food, and things like that. I’m thinking about those things alongside the changing environment and the sense of place.” Kelliher-Combs considers humanity equally affected by their self-imposed impact on the Alaskan environment and wildlife. “There’s always this distinction between man and nature, but man is part of nature,” she said.
Sonya Kelliher-Combs was raised in the Northwest Alaska community of Nome, a small town with a population of less than 3,600 people. Through her mixed media painting and sculpture, Kelliher-Combs offers a chronicle of the ongoing struggle for self-definition and identity in the Alaskan context. Her work uses synthetic, organic, traditional, and modern materials to move beyond oppositions between Western/Native culture, self/other, and man/nature, in order to examine their interrelationships and interdependence while also questioning accepted notions of beauty.
Kelliher-Combs received her BFA from the University of Alaska Fairbanks and MFA from Arizona State University in 1998. Kelliher-Combs' work has been shown in numerous individual and group exhibitions in Alaska and the contiguous United States, including the national exhibition Changing Hands 2: Art without Reservation and the international exhibition Arts from the Arctic. In 2007, Kelliher-Combs was awarded the prestigious Eiteljorg Fellowship for Native American Fine Art and is a recipient of the 2005 Anchorage Mayors Arts Award. Her work is included in the collections of the Anchorage Museum, Alaska State Museum, University of Alaska Museum of the North, and the Eiteljorg Museum. Kelliher-Combs currently lives and works in Anchorage, Alaska.