Nicholas Galanin (b. 1979 in Sitka, Alaska) is a Tlingit and Unangax multi-disciplinary artist and musician. His work often explores a dialogue of change and identity between Native and non-Native communities.
We met Nicholas in New York on October 18th - Alaska Day - a legal holiday in the U.S. state of Alaska, anniversary of the formal transfer of territories in present-day Alaska from the Russian Empire to the United States, which occurred on October 18th, 1867.

As an Indigenous person, Nicholas Galanin keep on meaning with a material used to divide in his public art installation “In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra.” The 30-foot work references Robert Indiana’s famous “LOVE” sculpture, echoing the text-based form to spell out “LAND.”

Image © Marco Giannavola - Portrait of the Artist Nicholas Galanin

“Barriers to Land directly reflect barriers to love, love for Land, for community and for future generations.“ - Nicholas Galanin

Image © Marco Giannavola - Nicholas Galanin “In every language there is land. En cada lengua, hay una Tierra”, 2023, Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York.

In your work there's always a connection between the artwork and the location. Considering your public installation in Brooklyn, can you tell us the connection between the sculpture and its location?
Certainly. Everywhere there is connection of land, in my work. Here, with the history of Lenape territory, The history since then. A city like New York. Where everybody has a story of how they got here and sorts.

Whether it's The U.S. or the specific place, history and story of borders and movement migration. You know the history here. A lot of people ended in this region in different ways. So here the importance to bring the border wall. Material and scale to a place like this to carry the conversation.

It’s important to recognize that one of the first walls in the U.S. was Wall Street, which is still a wall today, financially in certain ways.
All of these things were thought about in conversation with the place.

Image © Marco Giannavola - Portrait of the Artist Nicholas Galanin

Your work is very involved into communities and traditions. Do you have any tradition that you love to keep alive?
My culture is foundational with everything I do:  the totems, carvings the jewelry. All of those things I still participate in contimuum, and this is part of that work. I do train, in the same way that I came up doing that work. 

Nicholas Galanin, The Imaginary Indian (Totem Pole), 2016, © Peter Blum Gallery

Could you share with us if you have any rituals? Could be like linked to your cultural tradition, something that you love to keep alive. Could be something more personal then the actual work.

I don't know if it's a tradition but we hunt and fish and do that as survival. It's like when the salmon come through, than we smoke them, we put it away

When you are in the process of creating from music to jewleries, do you have any recurring feelings? And can you just describe that in my few words?

From the moment I was training to do some of the work I do, there was the reoccurring feeling of joy and beyond, more than that. Just like, you felt it. And then was human knowledge. It was part of it too.

Installation of Nicholas Galanin, The Value of Sharpness: When It Falls, Art Basel Miami Beach, Meridians Sector, Miami Beach Convention Center, 2021. Photo Credit Unknown.

Does it happen to you that maybe at one point like in the credit process, you get stuck in something. How do you get out of there?
I feel like we can all get there and beating us places, but i've worked in so many mediums. And early on tried to remain open to my process, and then ideas and potential. So open that I’m out of my own way from it even.

I feel like that's important not being too precious sometimes. Still moving. It's okay to fail. It's okay to pause and listen.

Image © Marco Giannavola - Portrait of the Artist Nicholas Galanin

Do you have any dream opportunity? Could be related to music or a collaboration, please dream out loud about something that you would like to experiment or challenge yourself with.Sure, I think we get to try to do that as artists though and I don't know if I can tell you one thing…I would love to have more projects collaboratively with my peers or even my children who are learning this work.

I think the dream is Time. I'd like to have time, and be in that time in a good way.

Do you have any quotes that motivates you, when you are kind of low and that help recenter yourself if you need to ? Or a book, an image that you know that if you go back to it, you can still feel the sparkle, the inspiration from that?I do but it's not just one thing. It's the Land. it’s Ancestral’s work that my ancestors have created. Visit that it's always really powerful. Than, It's Family. It's Music. It's a lot of things.

Nicholas Galanin, Never Forget, 2021. Photo Credit Unknown.

Interview by Francesca Valente  102 NYC