My name is Hanna Sholl, my Sugpiaq (Alutiiq) name is Agasuuq, meaning cormorant. I was born in Kodiak, Alaska to Sophie Frets (Hansen) and Bruce Burns. My maternal grandparents were Walter and Edna Hansen. I introduce myself in this way to honor my ancestry, homelands, and relationships, each of which informs my art.
With my artwork, my hopes are to always honor the resistance and creativity of our ancestors, combining present day with traditional methods. Currently I am working primarily with skin sewing, clay, acrylic paint, woodcarving, weaving, beading, mixed media and photography. My intention is to have the works I create speak back to those who came to our homelands and described our ancestors in racist and negative ways. My hopes are also that it will speak to our people, a reminder that being strong and independent has always been part of our culture.
And still is.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl was born in Kodiak, Alaska to Sophie Frets and Bruce Burns. Her maternal grandparents were Walter and Edna Hansen. Walt was from Karluk and Edna from Chignik. The pair met in Kodiak where they lived the majority of their lives together.
Since childhood Hanna has been drawn to art. In 2006, she returned to Kodiak and began exploring Alutiiq arts. She started her journey under the mentorship of Alaska Native artist Flossie Spencer. Since then, Hanna has been developing her craft and running a business. Her exploration has led to many opportunities for learning from Native artists, culture bearers, and ancestral objects.
In 2012, Hanna married Jonathan “Gage” Sholl who plays a big role in supporting her artistic life. They have been blessed with four children. Fueled by the support of her family, Hanna dedicates her days to learning and sharing Alutiiq arts, language, and dance.
Interview with Hanna Sholl
Michael Hubert, Jean January, Fred Berestoff, Zoe Hensley, Theressa Hooper, Devon Alcorn, Larrisa Chitty
Michael: Good evening, I will turn the floor over to you so you can introduce yourself and then we’ll go from there.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: My name is Hannah Sholl. My name is of a shoe, which means format and I am from Kodiak currently I am working as a full time artist/ culture bearer/ teacher and I am also a 2020 Lewis Indigenous Knowledge Fellow which has allowed me to do a lot of work within my community, consistent with cultural revitalization. And on top of all that, I’m also a mom of four and an analytic dancer and have basically spent the last 10 years rediscovering my personal cultural identity, and then figuring out a way to help people on their own cultural journeys. So that’s basically it in a nutshell. With a whole bunch more details just kind of packed in there somewhere. So I look forward to your questions, awesome. I got to see him beforehand and so look forward to discussing this.
Devon: Yeah, thanks. So, my first question is, why did you decide to do your art on native Alaskan art instead of other cultures or, you know, just regular modern art?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Um, okay. So I don’t know if it was so much of a choice as just kind of who I am. I was born in Kodiak on Kodiak Island, but I was raised down in the lower 48 in the Portland area and did not actually move back to Kodiak until I was 18. But my whole youth I had always been extremely interested and active in art and taking classes here and there and just had a talent for it.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: The style of art that I would do wasn’t necessarily recognized by my art teachers as something of value, because it was so different. The patterns and then the small intricate details and ways that my art teachers didn’t really want or recognize it as something of value.
So, I kind of like switched to fit their lens; which was fine. And then when I moved back up here…Long story short, you know, kind of my cultural identity… and then realized after studying these pieces, these tiny little drawings, and designs and patterns (that I’ve been in love with my whole life, despite the fact that they were never labeled as valuable),
are parts of my ancestors’ history. There are pieces of artwork there. So, it’s not that I decided like I’m going to specialize in native art. It’s more along the lines of, like, I’m native. And so this is my art.
Devon:Thank you. Onto my next question, do you also
do your art based on folklore or your religious beliefs and your emotions? The reason I ask is because I started to realiz
e early traditional art was based on folklore, religious beliefs like totem poles or in some cases, even some people started making up masks resembling a windigo and other such creatures or spirits. So, I was just wondering if you did similar to that where you did stuff, based on your religious beliefs and your emotions, that kind of stuff?.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Oh, definitely. Yeah, for sure. I think that pretty much I have my bread and butter pieces that I baked to sell. Over the years, those have actually become more tied into my emotions as well. As I’ve grown as an artist and been able to branch out, people have become familiar with my artwork. But, I would say almost every single piece that I have is tied to me emotionally, or has a story behind it. Within the last five years I’ve really started exploring mythology and stories that aren’t told, and then figuring out ways to tell them through art.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Because so much of our history is just kind of locked away in old journals and old recordings and not accessible, particularly…particularly to children. So, I’ve started trying to figure out how we can pull those stories out and make them into things that are accessible to children.So, I think, yes, on that question- on all of it; it’s all tied (together).
Devon: All right, thank you. And for my final question,( which I think you’ve already answered), is there another kind of style you enjoy doing and why?
Like you said you were born in Alaska and originally you basically started doing what your teachers said, and then you got your cultural soul, ( forgive my premise, but that’s kind of how I interpreted. I’m sorry).And then you decided to use your own methods, to make your own art, which has earned a lot. Congrats to you, by the way!
Is there any other kind of art from the one that you are trying to make your own, trying to express your feelings? Is there any other kind of art that you see an interest for?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I am a lover of art. I appreciate my art. I appreciate others, (too). I just am fascinated with how art is so healing and speaks to so many different people and can reach so many different people, who have so many different opinions and beliefs about things, and that can come together.
I am constantly learning new techniques and figuring out how I can use them and telling the stories that I’m telling through my cultural values and in my cultural lens, basically. So, as far as when you talk about like other types of art I make..
So, I do paintings and I do readings. I do this kind of like certain things, but then I’m like a month ago I had a wall, and I couldn’t create anything. And so I did one of those
Hannah Agasuug Sholl:Ink October, like where you spend he draw something every single day and I did it like in a, in a way that I didn’t. I don’t do art and like posted it in a way that i don’t i don’t post raw aren’t like that so i mean i’m open. Yes, all our lover of art, for sure.
Devon: Thank you. And I think that’s all my questions.
Fred: Hannah. My first question: I was reading your bio and it says that you wanted your heart to speak back to those who came to our homelands. That’s just a part of what was in your bio. But that’s the part that I really sort of personally like.
Does this mean that your art is like a reminder, or something what did you mean by that?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Okay, so,I’m not sure how familiar you guys are with Subquiq history. But in general, people don’t know. So I’m going to give you a quick rundown. So for 10,000 years. Subquiq people on Kodiak Island thrived and were excellent hunters and fishermen and women and built their kayaks and traveled hundreds of miles on their skin kayaks and just evolved and and thrived. Then within a 200 year period, we basically lost everything.What happened was the first traders came and decided that our area was great. They established AN AREA RIGHT WHERE OUR CITY IS RIGHT NOW. And basically just removed all of the culture, just like scooped it out and just left the shell of who we are. That quote in particular was kind of sparked by an article that I read in an old magazine. I didn’t think it was basically here to Assimilate our area, basically, amongst other things, I do think to establish training area trading posts, all that good stuff.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: And the wives. So it was from the wives perspective and and it goes on talking about, like, oh, you know, they called us values becauses in a National Geographic, but it was an old, old magazine FROM ME THE 70s, and it was talking about the women or the wives of the elite men who came to Kodiak as fur traders are not for traders, but as military personnel. They said our attributes were: they were starving and cold and the poor things lived in these huts in the ground. They used fur to sleep on and it was just horrible. And so we decided that we were going to take all that away from them and we were going to educate them and built schools and made them go to these schools.
(By the way, wasn’t designed to be like yeah indigenous people. It was designed to be like we know better than them.) But by the end of the article, our people started to become like the people who had come in, located in Kodiak. they started getting in trouble. As far as they were now starving and and they were now cold and because they had taken away the traditions and just natural activities of our ancestors here on Kodiak. Our ancestors were also suffering, at that point, too.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So what they decided to do was to follow what they say about gathering fruits and berries and maybe we’re going to decide that it’s not such a bad idea, and to have our houses halfway in the ground because that’s what works.,
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So the idea behind that is to kind of speak back to all of those people who came and decided that they knew more than our ancestors. They were better than our ancestors, they were elite. And those who also came in with the sole goal of assimilation and basically they had ‘ kill the Indian, save the man’ mindset. That was very, very prevalent in this area as far as natives were thought of as less than, less than dogs. Up until, gosh, like 40 years ago, there were signs outside of the canneries that said, ’ No dogs, No natives.’
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: When I say that statement, it’s because I am the product of my strongest ancestors. And I am speaking back to those who came to destroy us. And I’m not doing it for me. I’m doing it for my children and my children’s children, and the people who are still healing from generational traumas, and haven’t quite figured out how to express themselves.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Because in our area generational trauma is a very hardcore issue for a very long time. People would whisper about their culture here, but nobody would speak out about it. And so I guess it’s not rebellious. But I’m here and I’m doing this.
Fred: Like I said, I really like that part of your bio. Thank you.
Fred: Next question. Does your experience with the Alutiiq dancers: I know you’re very active in the dance community here. Um, does your experience with them, how does that influence you, how does that, you know, kind of advise your art?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Just paintings in general as far as figuring out how I can display dancing, similar to the way that my ancestors displayed dancing. And the relationship that I have with dancing, promoting… how can I express it on paper? I’m having a hard time explaining it.
Fred: I can’t remember all of the petroglyphs, I don’t know if our team knows about our petroglyphs, but other petroglyphs of people dancing. Is that what you use in your art?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yes. I’m trying to think if I have any… I’m sorry, I’m going to continue answering the question, and I’m going to pull up a piece for an example.
Fred: Okay, I know the petroglyphs in general, but Hanna probably knows more than I do.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Oh no, go for it.
Fred: Right, we have petroglyphs that are really old, 10,000 years old. There are several locations around the island, and there are probably a bunch more that we’re not even aware of, but, it’s one of the only of the few things that we have from that far back, from archaeological standpoint. And they’re there.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I like it.
Fred: To me that it shows that our people are happy. I don’t know, they’re just happy drawings, people smiling. There are images of, you know, whales and fish and all these other things. But I wasn’t aware if there was a petroglyph of people dancing, which is, which would be really cool. Um, but yeah, they’re just kind of a neat thing about the Kodiak Archipelago.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I love what you said about that. That’s what’s neat, especially to me is that you see people are happy, and they’re smiling. Because in Cape al attack which is where the majority of the petroglyphs are, we know hundreds and hundreds of petroglyphs and like three faces that aren’t smiling, and all the rest of them are smiling.So, it really does speak to that.
Hannah Agasuuq Sholl: Okay, and I am a co host. So I should be able to share my screen.
I’m going to give you an example. Do you see the gold? What do you guys see, do you see the gold picture?
Fred: I think we see the whole thing, of the dancers in the bottom in the art piece, yeah.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Okay, these are basically petroglyphs that are on rocks. So,we have the ancestral petroglyphs that we know are of our ancestors’ faces. We don’t know what they mean, or where they come from. We know that a lot of them were tied to the whale Cults
I try not to recreate them, especially if I’m going to sell something, it’s more along the lines of creating my own petroglyphs.
Hannah Agasuuq Sholl: So, these are similar to the ones that we see that express dancing and this is in the Cape al attack area.But this is on the Red Rock petroglyphs and we have a dancer here. There’s the drum, the drumstick and then we know that she’s female. And this is an example of how my dance shows up in my artwork, through soap back lens. So I know that this is how my ancestors. Except expressed And documented dance and then I’ve taken that and documented it the way that they did, but in a through modern lens and there’s something very spiritual about dancing. It’s like one of those things, you know, you know, kind of thing.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: We know this on multi levels, because when you’re getting together in your community with people of like mind, that’s positive. We know that drums are like resetting your brain, helping you heal from things and process trauma. We know that beating noise, in general, is used to help children.
And adults, I’m sure, but I have just experienced it with children. So,we know the healing power of the drums and then the idea of getting together in community and with people in other communities, as well, over this thing that we’re so passionate about.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: There’s this element of when you are dancing and singing, and really deep into it there, it becomes a more spiritual tie you can feel.And I don’t want to get too cheesy, I’m not trying to get weird). But you can really feel your ancestors., The positive things, you can feel that you’re doing what you’re supposed to be doing. You can feel you’re on the right path. You can feel that you’re doing the right thing. So, then as an artist that feeling translates through a ton of my art and different ways. Sometimes it’s very literal, like these petroglyphs that I showed you that have dancers. Sometimes it’s a more spiritual thing that’s hidden in the layers behind it.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Sorry, It was a really long explanation.
Fred: Real quick. Does anyone have a question about petroglyphs? And people here know what petroglyphs are? Okay. Just, making sure all right. Um, my last question.
Fred: Historically, there’s a division between male and female art forms, um, you know, things like only the women did the basket weaving, et cetera.I don’t think there was much splash over between the different roles and I just want to know if you have a view on this? And do you yourself, try to stay away from any of these predefined rules? You know, how did you work on or about that?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah, that’s a great question. And I actually wanted to explore that.
I started exploring it, what are the gender roles in ancestral Subquiq history? And I came up with a lot of walls. I decided that that wasn’t a path I was going to take right now, but I learned a lot. One of the main things that I learned is that there was a lot of crossover. We know that men did the hunting, and the majority of the fishing. Particularly the hunting, though, because women were considered sacred, after they had had their first menstruation.
And because of that blood on them, it wasn’t considered a bad thing. It was considered a sacred thing, but it also made it so that women couldn’t hunt during that time period. Now, I don’t know about ancestral hunting with small girls, but I do know that hunting was taught to young girls in the earlier times by their dads until they started menstruating.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: People think, well women did the sewing, and men did the fishing and women did the gathering and mended you know whatever else. But, it’s actually not. We worked very well together. But we, as in our ancestors, lived so much of their lives in this climate. And in situations where they weren’t together; each gender had to pick up different roles to survive and to thrive. For instance, t hat picky wick, which is the sewing bag, People think, oh sewing bag, that’s for a woman, right? Actually, it’s just as much for a man in our culture, because man’s got this kayak; It’s made of sea lion skin.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: He is out on a long trip in the ocean and his kayak gets a hole. How’s he going to fix it? He has to have the kit to fix it. He has to have the proper materials and he has to be an expert at sewing, as well. We do know that these gender roles cross, just differently.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: And in dance, because we lost our dance. It was put to sleep for several years. When it came back our elders kind of put gender restrictions on things. Within the last few years, we’ve kind of broken through all of those gender restrictions. The more information we learn about so faffing matriarchal society and there being multiple women also being allowed to have multiple husbands, women thought of a sacred and She shamans and things like that. We have , I can say we, as the community of female strong indigenous Subquiq women who are out there in our community doing things like dancing and language, a little bit more empowerment by our ancestors to break the mold of what people believe about what our women were doing.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: In general, when people talk about high X and skin kayaks, and when you see pictures drawn on like the kana logo and they’re this man with the hunting hat and he’s in the water. But there’s strong documentation that talks about how women would have their kayaks tattooed on their arms and on their faces. We know that women held this piece super high in their priority. They’re not going to tattoo a kayak on their arm or on their face. That is something frivolous and not not something that they deal with or something that they have once
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: The same thing goes for clothing and I mean you can it. It meshes so much with all that because the amount of travel that our people did. It’s just everyone had to know basically everything. And that is an unofficial opinion, because I’ve done a lot of research going through journals. There’s a lot of different opinions and particularly…(And I say this with respect), a lot of strong male scholars in the Alutiiq community, who have kind of set their tone, and a lot of our information comes from journals, written by men.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So a lot of this stuff that we’ve been told and believed, it’s been told from the perspective of a man. We each have our own perspective, and when a man writes something and a woman writes something and it’d be about the same exact thing and be completely different by gender or race or religion.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: And up until just a few years ago, there were no women studying and questioning what the scholars had decided, like you look at the books.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: From the Alutiiq Museum, which are fabulous and grey and full of tons of facts. I wanted to dig deeper. I wanted to find the original passages that came from. And I wanted to form my own opinions about what it meant. It turns out that my opinions did not always align with what the scholars had said anywhere, or what you know other people said who were not scholars.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So it’s just been recently that real gender roles like that are being… Not challenged, but embraced.
Fred: Thank you. Yeah. I really appreciate that. So, if I were to paraphrase this, make sure I understand. It sounds like you’re saying that. these gender roles are more of a modern thing rather than what was, what it was really like historically?
But the question is, how does that influence your art?. So, I know that you you’ve been exploring it, but do you see your artists feminine or do you see it as male?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Right, So, when I’m talking about the first part, yes I am saying that I believe that Assigning male and female is something that was assigned to us. Previously, and then recently we’ve kind of felt that, Not only that, we can break out of that box now as indigenous women, men and women now. Perhaps it might have not been correct the way that it was framed earlier. And then I have a lot of really good examples of it, but I happen to have one sitting on my desk right now that because I’m working on a project that I do every year. And what it comes down to is like typically people think that men wore this shirt hats, because they’re hunting hats. They’re pictured in the few pictures that we have only men are wearing them. And this is another piece that are dancing women in our, in our group decided that, well, why wouldn’t women wear them. Why couldn’t women wear them and so this little doll right here is a female dancer wearing a little Spirit through hat. And I can like honestly say when I saw this, I make little ornaments like this every year. And then represent our people represent our men represent our women reas very When I started making them. I Specific a little ladies with the head dresses and the black and white and red dresses or yeah black my red dresses and the correct face paint, all that good stuff. Everything matched up with the ideal of what people would think about in our area when they would think about analytic dancer. And so, yes, the more I’ve learned the more I’ve changed the way that I present our culture. I mean, it’s just it’s a natural thing, of course, I would think that as
Fred: You’re challenging the norms.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah, I think (so).
Fred: Or is it more like you’re just, you’re just doing it the way you think it should be. And that’s just the way it is.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: No, I think that you’re right, because I’m just, … what’s the best way to put it…?. As a culture, we are active, we’re not something that’s passed or not. And it’s why I hate the word contemporary, because we’re not contemporary or intense diluting egregious effect. This is just what is now. So I think I’m challenging the people in the absolute most respectful way possible. The people who have not learned yet that there’s so much more Supiaq culture than a headdress, and a black and red, white dress.
Fred: Perfect. Thank you Hanna.
Larissa: So my first question is, is there a reason for the different art you share on your social medias as opposed to what you have on the elliptic museums page?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Definitely um, the Alutiiq museum, I think, is all things that have been sold through the museum at one point or another. And my social media on Facebook. I use it just primarily for things that I’m selling or advertising classes that I’m going to teach.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: My Instagram is more about the process of what I’m doing and the step by steps and kind of getting people more excited about what’s going on and and showing people the starts and finished and talking a lot about the failures because I feel like on social media. We have a tendency to just want to put on this happy like I’m an artist and I’m awesome and everything’s great. And don’t doesn’t look perfect. See, I’m great. And I don’t like that because it’s not reality and so I like Instagram, it has really given me the platform to be like, here’s my before. And here’s my during and then here’s what I ripped it all out, because it looks like crap and I started over and I’m going to start over tomorrow. And then you can catch me then. And so I like, I like that about social media, but I think that the different I definitely do different things for the different platforms.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So yeah, but I mean I love Instagram for that.
Larissa: I really like that how you’re like going against like the social norms of like what Instagram like is as opposed to like what it can be for
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl:Yeah.
Larissa: My next question is what is the art form or medium that speaks to you the most and your cultural beliefs.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I think it changes. To be honest, I think that on the cultural journey that I’m on, and on the artistic journey that I’m on, I think it goes different directions and definitely when we’re talking about an art form, it’s probably dance would probably be when I can feel the closest to my ancestors.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: As far as, like, when we’re talking about actual physical art that I’m making. I would like to be able to say that, oh, it’s my hoop rattles or you know those traditional pieces. But I think it’s those times when I can really just sit down and paint my emotion without having to worry about, like, selling the piece. So I would probably say that paint painting is my go to artistic spiritual palate cleanser and probably where, I mean, that’s probably where I’ve had the most success and most recognition is probably through things that I painted.
Larissa: It’s really cool. Um, the last little question I had. You kind of answered it earlier when you were talking to Devon, but do you enjoy the little art challenges like the October that I’ve seen on your Instagram.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I love. I saw that question. I was Oh, this one so great. Yes, I do. I love those little things and when covid hit our little circle of people here women who had been working on crafts here and Kodiak they did an earring every single day challenge and each of us would come up with a theme every single day and at the beginning part before people realize, Okay, we’re going to be teaching classes and like know what our kids are doing and everything got really busy. It was like this quite low of, Okay, what are we going to do and so that like earring a day challenge was amazing. And then, like I said earlier, as far as the Inktober I’ll use, I’ll use challenges like that to break those artists blocks, because they just they do for me. They make me push aside my expectations for myself and allow me to kind of clear that out and open up my ability to just create.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So yes, I love this little chat.
Theresa: The first question I have is, do the colors like the red, white, black and blue have meaning in the masks or other artwork?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yes. Suupiaq people only had red, blue, only okay so we only have words for red, black, blue and white.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Red, black, blue and white and those are actual words, all of the rest of the colors are talking about, like, like for instance like pink is like, “it looks like fire weed.”
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So the I. The reason that those four have those words is because they are very specific and we see them used a lot and ancestral pieces and we do know that like black is for the long winter nights, but it’s also for morning. And when someone had lost a loved one, they would paint their whole faces black. We know that red is where our ancestors are Bloodline and our men when they would travel and when they travel now especially like our dance group, they will paint their faces red. We were told by our elders I and I don’t think this is a traditional thing. I think this is an example of our modern day elders exercising their Supiaq right to inform the younger generations. This is what we need to do now and they require us to wear red on our faces when we dance to as of respecting our, our ancestors and acknowledging them.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: White is for a creator. And there’s a lot of debate about what that means, but that’s the general statement. And then blue, which is actually the same color is green, and the Original Supiaq language which doesn’t make sense unless you think about like the ocean and how the ocean is blue, but the ocean is green, and how much time our ancestors spent on the ocean.
Men start, you can start to see like okay I get it, I get why those colors are considered the same.Yes, they all had specific meaning and there’s tons of more little things like ancestral times you weren’t allowed to use blue for anything except for hunting. Whole bunch of rules and tons of information about that. But yes, that’s the, Those are the definitions. The short version.
Theresa: Thank you. My second question is, which type of artwork do you like doing best and why? And do you have a favorite piece of artwork that you created?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah, I think, I think that when I really sit down and process I, it would probably be painting that I enjoy the most right now that’s subject to change, but And then as far as a piece, I’m one of those people who’s like, focuses on one thing and has this piece and will neurotically work on it until it’s done, and like I one of my head dresses. I finished in like a week. And then I move on to the next. So like right now I think my favorite piece is the piece that I’m currently working on But when that’s done, it’ll probably be a different piece.
Theresa: Okay, my final question and what or who inspired you to create your artwork.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I love that question. Um, it goes very well with one of the first questions that was asked, but, Aside from it. Just being deep inside me. I was mentored at a very vulnerable stage in my young adult life by an Alaskan Native artist and she pushed me to do better and to be the artists that I tended to be, I wanted to be in that I had inside of me.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: My mom has always been a huge, huge supporter of me, and she always like I remember her saying this, from the time I was really little. She’s like, I can’t wait to you till you get back to the island and you can do native art because you’re going to do such great things and you know I feel like my family. They have always supported my art. And then in different spaces like my dad is white and my grandparents are French like they are very different headspace and my grandma, my mom’s side and my mom. But yet, still I were able to meet me on that level ground and my dad would always buy me paint supplies and then when I was an adult and I started having to buy my own paint supplies and I would purchase paint. I would realize that, like all these years, my dad’s been buying me super high quality paint. And I asked him about it and I was like, why did you do it was like a kid and he was like, because I wanted you to understand how to work with the best product. I mean, he was like there. He wanted me to do it. He wanted me to do it for real and so definitely multi levels of support. I don’t remember exactly what the question was. But I think that answered it.
Theresa: Thank you.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Thank you.
Jean: Hannah. I was wondering what your name, and I’m not gonna pronounce it right, Agasuuq means?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: It’s okay. Nobody can pronounce it.
Jean: Okay, what does it mean?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: It means Cormorant. It was given to me by one of my fellow dancers and it’s just a really special word. I had a lot of ties to it. I was blown away when it was gifted to me.
I’m sure it’s actually like people. And so typically, we wouldn’t see animals with the name (shoot Pinot) It’s like how some languages have male and female, and we have this one in particular,not this, would be for a human. And so there’s like all these cool, neat things behind it besides just being a beautiful, beautiful bird.But, it means former.
Jean: Thank you, appreciate that. Now, I saw that you were given or you earned the Henry Luce Indigenous Knowledge Follow; so, what piece or collection of art were you given that award? And how has that impacted you?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: So, the Henry Luce Indigenous Knowledge Fellowship was something that I had to apply for last year. It’s very competitive. It’s kind of like a grant, but they were putting together a group of us fellows as a way to network with each other, make differences in our community.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: We’re culture bearers. There’s tribal law. There’s traditional midwife. There’s linguists, there’s traditional hunters and I am one of the artists. And so what I had to do was say okay, So over the next year. I’m going to do this and this and this and this and this and this and this is how it’s going to affect my community. And this is a short term goal and this is the right now. Go on. This is the long goal and this is the really long goal and it started out with over 500 applicants. And then they brought us down 25 applicants and then the 25 of us had to travel to Denver, Colorado and do three hour long panel interviews. And kind of like picture itself, like so. Yeah. I mean, they went all like they were like hardcore about it and then like a month later than we decided who were the fellows and there was 10 of us. There was only supposed to be eight of us, but they couldn’t pin it down so they gave they did it for 10 and so we meet, and we have all of our fellowship work that we’re working on. Like It would probably I have a ton of stuff so I’m not going to go into everything because it would take a while, but um So we each have our fellowship work. But then we also had three projects that we had to do together in small groups. So like the last, the first one that we did. We each focused on a subject came together as a group network together and figured out how we could process that and it. They’re all different like one was how to become an indigenous leader.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: One was how to heal like healing from trauma and then one was how to make social change. And so like out of the social change ones we created these videos that are going to be shared with the public that will talk about how social changes being done in the community. Not just one example, then we did that three times over with different things. Right now we’re doing working on how to do, how to publish an indigenous book. And we’re not just talking like. Step one. Write a book step two have your editor, look at it. We’re talking like ethically. What are you doing, like, where it like what’s the line between what should be published and what shouldn’t. And who do you need to ask and then like when an editor comes in and edits you who is non indigenous because there’s not a lot of indigenous publishers and editors and people who will take that the same indigenous view. How can you keep your indigenous identity. So we’ve come together to do those projects to and it’s an amazing program. We were the first were the first cohort, but they’re doing it, they’re going to do it again and again and again and again.
Jean: Wow, what an experience! Congratulations!
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Thank you. It’s been amazing.
Jean: Yeah, sounds like it would be. I’m just curious, what’s the name of your video for the social change? Or have you guys come up with the title, yet?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: We have not, (yet).. Okay,. what I recommend is to keep your eye on my website, because after the end of this year, I will open up a section in it. That’s called Fellowship. In there, it’ll have the gallery of everything that I’ve worked on, but it’ll also have links to the things like the social videos that we’ve been doing and promoting. Things that First Nations is working on and all that. So all that information will be running through my website.
Jean: Great. Yeah, I’ll do that. And then the last question I have is, one of the pieces I liked of yours was the feather with the puffins at the bottom. I really like that. So, do you tend to like to paint birds, because I really love paintings of birds? That was really neat to me, because it was just little puffins at the bottom. What made you paint on the feathers?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Those are my bread and butter pieces. And those are the ones that everybody loves, puffins and feathers. And I can knock out five paintings in a day and then have them framed. It’s the part of being a professional artist that people don’t really like to talk about and don’t really like to hear about, but we have those chunks of things that we do. So that we can keep doing everything else. And that’s the way it started, because when I started out, I loved (painting) them. That was 12 years ago, but now I’m like, oh (no), I have to paint more puffins on (feathers).
Jean: This was my first time seeing your paintings, you know, so think of it from someone who’s seeing it first. I thought it was beautiful.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Man, I really, I really appreciate it. And if this was any other forum other than like talking to other artists, I would not have gotten because, but I think that there’s a need to be honest, because as artists, we feel these things and don’t always have anyone to express them to sure but that’s exactly it like this funds. My Passion Projects and allows me to be a full time artist and people love them. And so it’s bringing joy to people. But yeah, man. Those passes.
Jean: Well, I understand what you’re saying. But I do love the art. Thank you a lot, Those were my questions.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Thank you.
Zoey: So my first question was, how old were you when you started doing art and how did you get your start with art. And I am also going to add on to that, when did you start shifting over to doing traditional Supiaq art?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah. Great questions. I know we’ve talked about them a little bit here, but I’ll just kind of outline it with what directly to what you’re asking. Like I said, I’ve always loved art and always been really heavily involved. And my grandma. When I was little, I lived with my dad and my grandma, my grandpa down in Portland and Like I remember from a super young age she bought me a little art table that lived in the kitchen. I always have pens on and I was always doing art on it. For as long as I can remember. And doing the artwork of like trying to fit into Western society and doing what they want and during and then eventually like trying to figure out how to sell because, though it was It was not that long ago it was long enough ago that like I could set up a stand outside our house in Portland and sell jewelry on the side of the road. So like trying to figure out how to make jewelry, not indigenous jewelry, jewelry that people would want. And then transition. The like even though all those patterns and pieces like genetically, those were in me. And in me. It’s a little more literal sense but like we all have that in different ways, whatever your ancestry is like it’s there. It’s just if you just are aware of it. Mine just happened to be a super literal way but I’m Really making the transition from Like I think it wouldn’t necessarily be making the transition from not cultural to cultural, I think it was more of making the transition from I’m a single mom and I need to make money. And I’m going to take advantage of the fact that I’m native And I’m going to do what I need to do to make money, including selling to the tourists, which is like a whole other game as far as like putting on my kuspuk and and learning how to deal with those awkward questions and smiling and being really like what they want. And then transitioning into the artists of, like, okay, now I’m going to tell you the story. Let’s talk about cultural misappropriation, let’s talk about Generational traumas and you know let’s let’s talk about the real history of Kodiak that transition happened very slowly, over the last six years, slowly. Now I’m to the point where I’m like, I’m actually going to be publishing a book that is a poem from the perspective of a grandma talking to her grandchild listing out everything that happened from the time that the fur traders came to Kodiak To present day and it’s like a long poem, but it’s going to be like fully done with art piece like art paintings and then it’s going to have the Each line that talks about these different pieces. Like there’s a line that refers to something about Boyle, people wouldn’t necessarily get it but we had that oil spill that happened here in Kodiak that literally changed the relationship between animals and people on our island. So there’s going to be factual statements next to it. I would never have taken on such and this is going to be controversial because this is painful to people here. It is shocking to people here. There’s pieces parts of the religious communities that don’t want to believe that they had any ties to this and at any point And then there’s people here or just like that never happened. “You guys are crazy.”
I wouldn’t have taken on a piece like this, not even two years ago. But that slow evolution into being culturally honest and vocal and really trying to figure out how to help. And I think that I’ve kind of evolved to the point where I realize that healing, not for everyone, but for a lot of people is going to come from hearing the truth about what happened and being allowed to process that in their own way and that’s the great thing about art because art allows people to process traumas in their own way in a safe space. But I think that this telling the truth. I think is probably the best way to answer your question, instead of like going from non traditional traditional or going from An American society to be x is like, I think that it’s more of like going from a baby artist who’s just trying to make it work to a super culturally honest artists like let’s do this, let’s have the conversation. And so that over the last couple years I’ve gotten pretty bold.
Zoey: Okay, my next question is, um, You kind of mentioned contemporary art, a little bit. But what does the mixture of contemporary elements and traditional elements in your art mean to you and what first inspired you to combine contemporary and traditional styles?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Okay, I’m gonna say something, it’s going to sound a little harsh but it’s said with love.
Zoey: That’s okay, go ahead.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Contemporary is a dangerous word to indigenous people. Hmm, implies that who we were is more important than who we are. Like I am I, when I do artwork.I’m doing self back artwork. Or a loot. Artwork because I am so back: Yeah, um, as an artist. If I say, I’ve done this and it’s like a security blanket. It’s to protect me from people in my community saying that I’m not authentic enough. But like I said I’ve gotten pretty bold in the last couple years and Taking that security blanket away and just encourage people to like realize that And I’m not saying not encourage people to not use the phrase, but to think about the phrase when they’re using it talking about themselves.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Because it’s really, it’s saying that like you’re less than authentic like you’re less authentic than your ancestors unless you do things exactly the way that they did. But here’s the cool thing too, and I get asked that question a lot of like, um, “Do you do things. Traditionally, are you traditional like your ancestors?” and Perry said it best. And he said, absolutely, because I use the best tools for the job. Yeah, it’s true.
Zoey: Yeah, that was one of the topics. Um, I think it was our first week of class. What is traditional and and you know what, what does that even mean, is something that was done 60 years ago considered traditional? And so, that’s okay. That’s interesting.
Zoey: I have a third question. you mentioned cultural misappropriation and have you experienced that in your time as an artist? And I guess how, like, how have you… How does that affect you as an artist and the Supiaq people?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah, that’s a great one. I don’t think that there’s a single indigenous person out there who’s active in their cultural community or our community who hasn’t witness cultural misappropriation or cultural appropriation. I think there’s a lot more people out there who are now starting to recognize cultural appropriation, things like Halloween costumes and you know like the general surface stuff. As far as personally I have really been very vocal and I’ve taught. I do lectures on cultural appropriation in a gentle safe space because we all have our opinions about things. And I know that me 10 years ago and didn’t realize how dangerous it was to have these culturally inappropriate costumes on kids like I didn’t think of Pocahontas as that bad, but I was just not there yet. I was just not educated enough. I did not know enough and I recognize there are people like that now and we have to have those conversations, but we have to do it with love. We have to do it, kind, because otherwise you’re going to get a lot of that like,
“I’m uncomfortable. So I’m going to put my wall up and then I’m going to be over here and I’m going to think that I’m right and you’re wrong”, and then that’s it. So I do very gentle open discussion neutral lectures to help people process through that.But probably the one that touches me personally like yes I’m against it in the fashion industry, in the sports logos, in the Halloween costumes, in the misappropriated hair, and people stealing our headdresses and selling them for thousands of dollars for fashion companies, but where it hits me the hardest is when my local community has artists who are non indigenous who are inspired by our indigenous art and then sell it in the same locations as indigenous artists, I’m working very hard not to call out any names or any locations or any places. But I think that that is like the newest wave of cultural appropriation that people are starting to call it that, like, I can be inspired by something that’s not my culture, but I really need to work on how to ethically share it through my art. Should I be selling it? Can I profit off of it? Like, where’s the ethical boundary there? And I know that a lot of people are struggling with that. Because Kodiak is, we lost our culture, but man, we’ve got like the petroglyphs and we’ve got the Kodiak looted dentures, like we’re rich with really beautiful art. To see non indigenous people taking petroglyphs and putting them on things that are printed in China and then selling them, that is the form of cultural appropriation that probably has to be the hardest right now.
Zoey: Thank you for sharing.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl:Great questions.
Michael: So based on that, that Conversation that you just had would you if someone came up to you and said, hey, I really want to do traditional bead headdress, and they came to you to find out the history and all that stuff behind that. Would you be okay with someone recreating that as their art and maybe not necessarily selling it but displaying it? And then if it was to be sold to have those profits go back to somewhere where it can be used in the area?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yeah, I think you just explained the correct way to do it. I get that question all the time. And I like what you just said. Canada has reached out to the indigenous artists.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Find out all you can about the pieces.You’re not getting permission from that indigenous artists, because not I don’t speak for all Supiaq people, you know, I can
help somewhere along their journey but I can’t be like, oh yeah, you’re good. Do whatever you want with it. Just the same, I can’t say absolutely not. You’re, you’re forbidden from doing that. Just because I’m just one person.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Working with the artists finding out the information, creating the piece clearly documenting and displaying that you are not indigenous and this piece was not made by indigenous hands. That’s a, that’s like a gray line that people like to forget. And then
The profit off of it either not profit and not profiting off it at all, or having the profits or a percentage of the profits go back to the community in which essentially, in which you’re profiting off of it.
Michael: Yeah, I think that’s a big situation because I did some research on some stuff and then finding out that there were, there are some artists that were not indigenous that were passing off work that was Indigenous and people were buying it versus somebody else that was, you know, I mean, so that’s a really big thing and have had a lot of instructors and people here in this area explained how important that is. And so that’s the kind of way. If I wanted to do anything in that realm. I would definitely Look at those situations and say, hey, look, this is what I want to do and reach out to people.
Michael: my first question was, you did a beadwork recreation at the museum. Can you explain what that was and how or what that meant to you to be part of that.And the reason I say that is it looked very emotional from some of the pictures, especially with the drumming, the praying, So could you explain that to us.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Sure, So you’re talking about the Penguin Project, which was paying what is their word for beats and it was a great project put on by the Alutiiq Museum. So, there’s three their pin art came and collected a bunch of masks from the Kodiak area and other things. And in that was Three beaded headdresses and when we’re talking about headdresses we’re not talking about typically what you see now, but we’re talking about long head dresses and really finally ornate beaded head dresses and they’re very well preserved. One of them was sent from France, we have a relationship elliptic museum has a relationship with France that Every five years they send pieces to Kodak that will be displayed in our museum. So this last bit sent. If you want to know the history of how our pieces ended up in France, and I’m happy to talk about it. But I’ll focus on this first. So the headdress came over from France. The Alutiiq Museum took this as an opportunity for us to study it, because this was the first time that we’ve really seen indigenous headdresses up close and so they put together the Penguin Project, which was a group of us, eight women. And under master beater June party we studied the headdresses and and documented them in June. So, June assigned us different things to do.And a headdress was eventually recreated; different people were working on parts of the headdress. Some people were counting the headdress. I was in the department that where I was.documenting what was going on by watercolor painting. And then I worked on the cap of the headdress, a little bit. So that’s technically what was going on. But, actually what we were gaining off of it was more about how we women would have worked together on these sort of projects. And how we saw that typically one piece wasn’t created from start to finish.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: The way that we do things now because of how materials were collected back then and how you know you had to wait until you have enough animals or enough send you to do the projects, all that good stuff.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: The time that we spent visiting with our native women was definitely the highlight and the most valuable thing to me out of that whole class. I think that a lot of us felt it. And I think you can definitely see it in the video,. and in the photos. because of the fact that we were together .around this ancestral headdress working to create an replica headdress. But, also, this took place inside of the museum with all of these artifacts around us. And just like the the seeing and the dancing that took place and
that it was the technical aspect of it is always important. Anytime you have a chance to work under a mentor, no matter how much we know, it’s always good to, you know, open up and learn from others. But definitely that spiritual connection that we gained working with each other was just as important as anything technically learned.
Michael: So with that being said, do you feel like Some of those pieces that are in France, and I know there’s other pieces in Alaska, which we’ve learned and I’ve learned about that are not here not physically here.Should be at some point returned to the indigenous people here or or do you feel like they are better kept where they’re at, because we might not have the facilities or the know how to maintain it or how people are going to Preserve it. I know there have been some things that have been returned and indigenous people have literally returned it back to the earth by bringing it back to where it came from, and stuff like that. And so what are your feelings on those kinds of things.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Well, I can give you my feelings specific to our area because it’s very different than what it would be to other areas. Because we have so little left, because we lost so much,what we know about our masks is only because pin art came and stole the masks out of caves and took them to France. My heart. Every time I Look at the collections that are kept elsewhere.Because of You can It’s so hard to explain some of these things, but like these pieces. They belong home.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Yes, our items are very well taken care of. I visited the items in Finland. They are very well cared for. They would, in a perfect world, they would be here every time we research items and have a chance to share them with our people. Amazing things happen.
They should be here based on the repatriation laws, but they’re not. And mostly people are not want like a lot of things aren’t supposed to come over here because there’s natural materials can come into America, some of them, most of them cannot go out into the other countries like I cannot ship. to Canada anything for me for teddy bear. I can’t ship it to candidates guess law.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Same thing with France, I don’t know the exact restrictions, but they all have restrictions. So they’re afraid that if they send stuff over here, even if it was like a long term contract or something that they would never get it back and they make a lot of money off of this, why would they do that.? Yeah, but, I don’t want to be better because I’m serious, like we would not have the: Information we didn’t, we have, like, we wouldn’t have it. Now, if people had not taken from here and it’s important to know like people are like, okay, why did they do that.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: We were not expected to survive, our people were not expected to still be here. We were expected to be extinct. They were fascinated with us and they wanted to be the people who documented us and put us in museums. And this is not just so fat people. It’s all Alaska and indigenous people in general but really, they came here to study us, or they were here for other reasons. And they profited off of us, because we were, you know like an endangered species that was not anticipated to live for the next hundred years.
Michael: With today’s culture and the way things are progressing and with social media and and all that, that Indigenous people have more of a voice or have the ability to talk more or bring things to light, you know, as far as that like that billboard or, you know, like in Canada where indigenous people just disappear, you know, that was brought to light last year. And that was a social media where they was just a bombardment of this is this information out here that no one’s see and, you know, and I think that’s with this today with social media, you can reach out to so many people just like this meeting and reach out to those people and get that message out. So do you feel like today with this and how things are progressing that indigenous people have more of a voice?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: I do.Yeah,I mean, I totally do. I think that it’s easy to get caught up and think that we don’t have a voice, especially when you like things like with this you know we’re something else. What CNN did class declassifying indigenous people is something else. It’s really easy to be think,well, there goes my voice. Or the fact that this presidential election literally did not mention indigenous people at all, when we’re talking about statistics. Then yes, where’s my voice?
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: But it’s undeniable social media has given indigenous people a voice, even if we’re only speaking to each other right now and our close non- indigenous friends. We are still speaking,reaching out, and sharing things like: the missing and murdered indigenous women crisis, which has exploded over social media. It has now become something that people are very aware of, and it’s gotten to the point where it’s gone up making changes and creating task forces to figure out what what’s going on and why is this happening so I do. I think that with all that’s bad, there’s still good and we’ve though we are. We’ve come a long way. We have a long ways to go. But we are definitely farther than we’ve ever been with our voice because of social media.
Michael: That’s all I have for you. We appreciate you spending your time tonight with us and answering the questions and explaining some things and just giving us your perspective and points of view on tons of your stuff and the artwork and just indigenous people as a whole. it’s always nice to see that perspective from somebody that’s there and that’s part of that community.
Hanna Agasuuq Sholl: Awesome! Well, thank you for having me.
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