April 27 to September 15, Ellis Doeven‘s “Maktak and Gasoline: The People of Point Hope” will be on view at the Anchorage Museum. She is the first Dutch artist to visit Alaska since photographer Iwan Baan gave a lecture in the same museum in January 2016. For opening times & tickets visit the museum’s official site.
This exhibition highlights the community of Point Hope, a small Iñupiaq village in northwest Alaska, as revealed through the photography by Ellis Doeven. Its title, Maktak and Gasoline, refers to the scents of the village where the air is mixed with the smells of maktak (Iñupiat for whale) and gasoline. It is a metaphor for the old and the new, which remain solidly connected in Point Hope. This exhibition presents a portrait of the area and its people amid a push-pull among cultures and eras.
Point Hope is the oldest continuously inhabited village on the North American continent. The Inupiat have lived here for more than 10,000 years. It is remote – accessible only by air – with its nearest neighboring village 100 miles away. Its climate is extreme. Located on the tundra, food has long been gathered by hunting the animals that migrate through the region.
Today’s Point Hope is a community of 900 people, modern amenities and ancient roots. Its social structure is strong, built on Iñupiaq values. The last century has brought material conveniences to the area; yet, life is not easy in the Arctic, even with modern technology.
Point Hope is a place of language, culture and identity. Environmental and social change will have greatest potential impact on younger generations. While some of Point Hope’s young people lose their way, buffeted by complex cultural forces, others grow up effortlessly straddling two cultures.
“My first trip to Point Hope was at the end of September 2008. I had jumped at the opportunity to travel to Alaska, but had no idea what to expect. My knowledge of the Arctic was based upon a few books and articles.
This community of people, with a way of life centered around whale hunting, fascinated and captured me. I returned to Point Hope six months later, this time during whaling season. I met Art Oomittuk Jr. of Point Hope and soon both of us were going back and forth between Amsterdam and Point Hope each year.
My understanding of life in Point Hope grew and so did my photo series. In 2011, our daughter, Anna Kupaaq, was born in Amsterdam. The first time we brought her to Point Hope she was seven weeks old. She is growing up with a foot in each culture.
Over the years, I started to understand my immediate attraction to the community. When I land in Point Hope, time stops. My own culture is so driven by clock time and it is a relief to be where nature dictates the rhythm of life—where life is more about the present than striving to be something bigger and better somewhere in the future. I often feel unease being from a western culture when I am in Point Hope. Western expansionism has threatened the community—taking land, taking whales, leaving nuclear waste, wanting oil.
I came to Point Hope on my own exploration drive, but after arriving I felt there was something I had to learn. I was fascinated by the culture so different to my own but with people just like me. I was touched by the closeness of the community and shocked by the trauma—people having gone through a roller-coaster of changes in a short period of time. I am amazed at how they respond as one living organism, pulling together, focusing on their values and strength—as the proud people of Tikigaq; as Tikigaqmiut.
Connecting to Point Hope and its people has opened my mind and has opened my heart. Through these pictures I hope to also open the hearts of others.”
– Ellis Doeven
Dutch photographer Ellis Doeven has been photographing Point Hope since 2008, when she first traveled there. She studied photography at the Royal Academy of Art in The Hague. Her work has been included in international arts festivals and publications. She was an Anchorage Museum Polar Lab artist-in-residence in June 2016. Though she now lives in Amsterdam, she still visits Point Hope each year.
The Anchorage Museum brings the best of Alaska to the world and the best of the world to Alaska. Through a combination of art and design, history, science and culture, the Anchorage Museum creates a rich, deep understanding of the human experience and offers something for everyone. The Anchorage Museum connects people, expands perspectives, and encourages global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment.