FAIRBANKS, Alaska (KTVF) The Festival of Native Arts is just around the corner. A few weeks ago, the festival announced on their Facebook page that art by Destine Poulsen had been selected as the logo for this year’s event.
The drawing Poulsen submitted features a series of figures superimposed over one another in the midst of a dance. Faces adorned in representations of Alaska’s native culture swirl around a drum, dance fans, a bandanna and a Tlingit raven mask. (Ramzi Abou Ghalioum/KTVF)
“I just wanted half-half female and male,” Poulsen says at a table in a quiet corridor between the ELIF and Bunnell buildings at the University of Alaska Fairbanks. The drawing she submitted features a series of figures superimposed over one another in the midst of a dance. Faces adorned in representations of Alaska’s native culture swirl around a drum, dance fans, a bandanna and a Tlingit raven mask.
Along the right-hand side of the image read the words, “Resilient We Stand” the theme for this year’s festival. “You need resilience to survive,” Poulsen explains, “And that’s mainly what Native Alaskans do. We survive.”
Poulsen, who grew up in Washington State, did not have much access to her native heritage. “I came out here into the interior to experience Native Alaskan culture,” Poulsen says. She explains that most of her exposure to her culture came from her mother watching Yupik dance videos on YouTube.
Since moving to Fairbanks, Poulsen has further immersed herself into Alaska Native culture through checking out books from UAF’s Rasmuson library, as well as trips to the University of Alaska Museum of the North to look at Native Alaskan dance masks similar to the one in her drawing.
“There’s not a ton there because I think traditionalists burned them after dancing,” Poulson says.
Poulsen says she has been “scribbling” all her life. “I was really interested in the illustrations [in storybooks], and from just reading stories,” she recalls. “I had a hard time learning how to read so it was mainly picture books,” she adds.
Despite this, it was not until she took some classes at university that she realized art was a viable career path. “Originally when I started college I was going to be a police officer,” she says, with a smile. “I drastically changed that.”
Poulsen’s work is guided by narrative, she says, holding up a drawing of a figure walking along a path. The narrative has both a beginning and an end. “Like the dance,” she says.
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