My work is an exploration of living in the space between two cultures. I grew up in the Gwich’in community of Fort Yukon and in Fairbanks. As a child these two communities often seemed to represent two opposing worlds; my Gwich’in culture and my non-native Western culture. I often struggled to reconcile the two and my place in them. I am aware that I’m not the only person living in a middle area and I hope my work speaks to all who know what it's like to live in those less defined areas. My relationship to each culture is in constant flux as I have new experiences: have children, get older, lose loved ones and see the changes to cultures themselves. I see my paintings as fluid as well, they feel alive and the possibility they may change or grow is always present. 


Working with traditional Gwich’in sewing materials and other elements from nature allows me to show the influence of my two cultures. I choose materials that bring feelings of comfort, home, care and belonging.  


In my most recent body of work I thought a lot about restoration in a spiritual, relational and mental sense but it translated into paintings as I considered how I use the elements. Sometimes things are not meant to be put back together in the same way. Sometimes they never return to their original form and instead are reassembled in an entirely new way and that is also a form of restoration. We can take the pieces of what we’ve been given and make them into something entirely our own. We can make our own creation or write our own story.

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© Colleen Thomas