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Women's Ingenuity, Tenacity and Care Helped Shape Circumpolar North

Myth of the North as “masculine proving ground” dismantled in new Anchorage Museum exhibition 

EXTRA TOUGH: WOMEN OF THE NORTH on view Nov. 6, 2020 – Sept. 6, 2021 

 

ANCHORAGE, ALASKA – A new Anchorage Museum exhibition re-examines the past and envisions female futures in the Circumpolar North, telling important stories of women’s impact on the North. The first major exhibition produced at the museum since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Extra Tough: Women of the North is on view Nov. 6, 2020 through Sept. 6 2021. 

 

Gendered history

The histories of many women in Alaska are not chronicled in books or cast in bronze, but they have always existed, says Anchorage Museum Chief Curator Francesca DuBrock. “Women’s histories are embedded in land, in memory, in family photo albums. They are held and passed on by people,” she says. “This exhibition demonstrates how woman artists, makers, mothers, leaders, and trailblazers have worked to advance their own authentic visions of beauty and justice in the North.”  

Extra Tough: Women of the North includes artworks, objects from the collection and historical profiles, presenting perspectives and ideas considered marginalized by the forces of colonization and patriarchy. 

Redefining “tough”
From ceremony to social critique, the objects and images on view in Extra Tough capture and communicate their makers’ experiences of landscape and place, gender roles and social norms, work and childrearing. In a North being shaped at unprecedented rates by the forces of climate change and globalization, women’s voices and visions provide rich ground for imagining a future guided by principles of gender equity, sustainability, and strength.  

Key themes include:  

  • women and place – how women have shaped and been shaped by the landscape; how materiality informs depictions of the landscape, including mushroom ink drawings of Ketchikan circa 1969; how Alaska Native artworks are made from the land itself;
     
  • women and society – how gender is constructed and how different cultural values shape our ideas of gender and gender expression; how women feature in stories and legends from different cultures; how artists have resisted the status quo; health and wellness; ceremony and coming of age; birth and childrearing; social and environmental justice; future-thinking; ideas of beauty, including, on view, a carved walrus ivory Iñupiaq hair comb dated pre-European; and
     
  • women and work – how women have participated in Indigenous and Western systems of labor and how roles and norms change through time; women working in male-dominated professions, including, on view, archival photographs of women working on the Alaska Pipeline; changemakers and the future of working women. 
The exhibition presents hundreds of historical objects, archival photographs and art works in various media. Other significant features of the exhibition include: 
  • a digital curation project, which compiles stories of important women in Alaska’s history into an interactive digital archive accessible in the exhibition, online and on social media 
     
  • interventions in the Art of the North galleries highlighting women artists and changemakers, amplifying histories often overshadowed by male-dominated narratives; 
     
  • an interactive listening station where visitors can sit and listen to affirmations voiced by women from around Alaska; and 
     
  • a traditional Tlingit seclusion hut built at SEED Lab in collaboration with traditional healer Meda DeWitt that honors the importance of female rituals and coming-of-age ceremonies in Alaska’s Indigenous cultures. 

Community-based programming accompanies the exhibition, including dialogues, performances, workshops, film festivals and presentations.  

 

The women’s stories and art works in Extra Tough: Women of the North reflect a kaleidoscope of ethics and values. DuBrock says, “Women are tough enough for this landscape. But the women who have shaped and continue to shape the North expand the traditional definition of toughness to include sustainability and care.” 

Support for Extra Tough: Women of the North is provided by John and Carolann Weir, Brian Kirchner and Rryan G. Webb, National Endowment for the Arts, Alaska Airlines, and Alyeska Pipeline Service Company.  

About the Anchorage Museum 
The Anchorage Museum at Rasmuson Center is the largest museum in Alaska, and one of the top 10 most visited attractions in the state. The museum’s mission is to connect people, expand perspectives and encourage global dialogue about the North and its distinct environment. Learn more at www.anchoragemuseum.org

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