Artist Talk: Nina Elder
Artist and adventurer, Nina Elder, visited EOU on January 23 and gave a thrilling talk about displacement, piles of rocks, and mines. Put simply, she is curious about where we are as a species, where we have been, and where we are going. She spoke of her travels to Alaska and the things that she learned about the people there. She also went into detail about specific artifacts that have been taken from Native American tribes.
Nina Elder is a researcher and an artist who focuses on changing cultures and ecologies. She is a co-founder of the Wheelhouse institute, a leadership initiative for women based on climate change. She is currently a researcher with the Nevada Museum of Art, the Anchorage Museum, and the University of New Mexico. Her art has been displayed in many publications, including VICE Magazine and PBS.
One of the things that Elder is interested in is piles of rocks. She called them the “innards of the Earth”, which have been stripped of their minerals and left behind. She saw these piles of rocks as important because “we exhume our daily needs from the Earth”, and these rock piles are what is left. She was interested in mines for a similar reason. Mines are the scars left behind after the minerals are taken.
One specific story that she told was about the explorer Robert Peary and what he took home from Greenland. On a trip to the North Pole, Peary he came across a large meteorite in Greenland, weighing 100 tons. He took this meteorite, along with six Inuit people, to the Museum of Natural History. Since the meteorite weighed so much, the only place in the museum that could support its weight was the basement. The Inuit people themselves became an unofficial exhibit in the museum for a short time, but the meteorite has remained in the care of various museums over time.
The meteorite was revered by the Inuit people. Using her talent in drawing, Elder created a piece to account for that void left behind in the hearts of the Inuit. She drew the location where it was on display but left the place the meteorite was completely white. She did this many times with various cultural artifacts that had been taken by scientists in order to show the void that was left behind.
Elder ended her talk on a positive note. She talked about this whole planet being made of stardust and how we are all, “brilliant creatures on a dancing ball of stardust.” She spoke of human curiosity and how it might save us. She used a metaphor to describe humanity, “humanity is an asteroid coming toward the planet. Some asteroids hit the earth and do massive damage; some simply revolve around it. We can choose which type of asteroid we are if we are just curious enough to find the glimmer in the piles of rocks left behind.”