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Peter Williams Artist Statement

Although we create it from living beings of the natural realm, clothing is what separates humanity from the rest of the natural world. Humans have an intimate relationship with plants and animals as we adorn and protect our bodies with them every day. Sadly, we no longer know where these materials came from, how they were treated or who transformed them into clothes. This disconnection from our environment and the things we use is a modern systemic problem which affects our food systems, climate change and is responsible for the the ultimate destruction of our planet.

As an interdisciplinary traditional artist, my work comes from my Yup'ik ancestry's traditional relationship with marine mammals. I hunt these animals for food, hand-sew their hides, and celebrate the spirit and gift of their lives. The connection of all things is deeply woven into my culture and inspires my art. I practice art that has enabled my culture to survive in some of the harshest environments for thousands upon thousands of years.

My art involves cutting, sewing, designing and shaping fur into finely crafted wearable garments and contemporary wall-hanging “fur paintings.” As part of my practice, I smudge with Labrador tea before a hunt, ask an animal for its life, skin and eat it. A respect for and dependence on marine mammals has shaped the art, government, religion, science, economics and technology of my ancestors. The deeply holistic nature of my culture not only informs my art but is the reason I create it. My work has appeared around North America in various venues ranging from market festivals, fashion runways, and contemporary art exhibitions. I use lectures and interviews to share these values, to pass on traditional knowledge and to help preserve it in its various and evolving forms.

My artistic goals are to express and celebrate the oneness of all things with emphasis on the human spiritual relationship with nature. This connectedness is necessary for the continuation of our species and many other life forms. I bind the human, natural and spiritual realms into functional art. By hand sewing garments out of the seals and sea otters that I hunt, I follow the footsteps of my ancestors. Turning Native-harvested fur into art and fashion objects, and telling the stories of their becoming, asserts a place for these ancestral traditions in the future.