The faces of my masks and the gestures of my figures emerge from memories—those passed to me by my ancestors and my own. They are shadowy and I sense them dimly until they appear, recognizable at last, through my working of clay. I am inspired by Yup'ik stories of transformation and the Yup’ik understanding of the interrelationship and spirit of all beings including human and animal people, water and sky people, river, sea, and rock, and beings we cannot see. My work transforms me, brings me closer to my Granny's ways of knowing and to the Alaskan village life she left as a young woman with my mother. I am Yup’ik Eskimo and French Canadian. My grandmother’s name is Clara Konig. Her mother, Helen Akfakorak Konig, was born along the Kuskokwim River near the Alaskan village of Bethel. I was raised in rural Rainier, Oregon with a mix of traditional Yup'ik Eskimo and working class values. I was taught to be especially careful and respectful of elders and children. I was taught the importance of sharing food and work and giving gifts.
My work is contemporary, exploring traditional themes and their interplay, confluence and divergence, with my urban life in the Pacific Northwest. I begin working clay for each piece with no more than a dusky shadow in mind of what will materialize. When the person of each mask or figure finally comes into view, I experience delight and relief similar to spotting down the road a relative who has safely traveled a long way for a visit. In fact, when a piece is finished, I often whisper to it, “There you are! Hello!” My artistic process continues to be healing medicine for my family and me, transforming some of the suffering and confusion of displacement and loss into connection and opportunity. I hope my masks and figures reveal to viewers something of their meanings, reminding them of their inseparable connection to all, their resilient animal bodies, and their inborn abilities to greet the sweet moments in life with full guiltless pleasure and the dark moments with courage and transformation.
--- Terresa White