The Alaskan village of Newtok, population 315, sits on the state’s western coast just 800 feet from the Ninglick River. In the mid-1950s, it was five times as far. But coastal erosion from climate change has moved the water closer—and forced this community to relocate to higher ground, fast.
Newtok is one of four communities in imminent danger of flooding and erosion (the others are Kivalina, Shishmaref and Koyukuk) and one of nine coastal Alaskan cities deemed vulnerable to these threats by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In August 2008, Anchorage artist Brian Adams spent a month photographing the people of Newtok. The resulting images—10 intimate portraits that tell the story of this small community’s plight—are now on display at New York City’s Alaska House, as one half of the exhibit, “Art and the Land.” Kodiak-born artist Alvin Amason shares the space, with 10 colorful painting-sculptures of Alaskan wildlife.
The artists convey a mutual respect for their home state. Adams, 24, focuses on the emotions behind a single moment, catching two women playing bingo, for example, or another paused in front of a full clothesline. “Even though I don’t have a lot of pictures of the coastal erosion,” he says, “I want people to be able to see [the effects of climate change] through the faces of the people who live there. Because it’s all about the people to me.”
Amason, 60, fixates on color. His work looks a touch like abstract realism, with the eyes, mouth and antlers of a deer swirled in a storm of unlikely greens, reds and browns, or the head and beak of an eagle taking shape through a dozen shades of blue.
The colors—at once shocking and intriguing—hold your attention, make you rethink your perceptions of the life form in front of you. That’s where Amason seems to want his audience to land. “You really have to pay attention to your environment and the rhythms,” he says. “To me, it takes a lifetime to get to know just one beach.”
Exhibit: “Art and the Land”
Admission: Free, donations accepted
Dates: Now through May 25, 2009
Location: Alaska House, Soho, New York City
109 Mercer Street, New York, New York
Hours: Tuesday through Saturday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday, 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.
Telephone: (212) 431-1580
More information: www.alaskahouseny.org