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Soy Artista: Indigenizing spaces through art

With long black and silver feathers jumping off the wall, Alme Allen’s mural titled, “We Been Healing That Way”, displays Karuk and Yurok culture in a way that is meant to educate others and honor his community. Through his lens he applies culture in each piece. Allen is able to showcase his Indigenous culture and start conversations in spaces that may not typically speak on topics about land acknowledgements and healing the earth. 

The “We Been Healing That Way” mural was painted as a tribute to Karuk activist Brian D. Tripp, taking elements and stylistic choices from four of his original works of art. The final mural design was approved by Tripp prior to his passing. 

Alme Allen putting the finishing touches on his mural “Moving It Forward” on Oct. 7 | Photo by Ricardo Lara Nava

“The connection with myself and Brian is a lot about our culture and a lot about our community so it’s deeper than just art,” Allen said. “Art is the thing that you see, but for us as Native people the culture and making sure that that’s secured and being taught and retaught is important.”

The mural is painted with a rockpacker figure, traditional to the White Deerskin dance, who is holding out a ceremonial obsidian blade. In the background is a mountain, representing the center of the world for Karuk culture. The entire composition of the rockpacker in the mural points south towards Wiyot land as a land acknowledgement. 

“I had my own interpretation of what I wanted to go for and I was really happy he chose the black and silver, which was really tributing that era from the mid 80’s when he used a lot of stark contrast: black, white, black, silver,” Allen said. 

“We Been Healing That Way is a second Tripp-Allen collaborative mural, the first being “The Sun Set Twice on the People That Day”, which is hung outside the Clarke Museum in Eureka. This project was Allen’s first large work with Tripp in 2000. 21 years later, Allen and direct family members of Tripp worked together to reinstall “The Sun Set Twice on the People That Day”.

“It makes it intergenerational,” Allen said. “In a lot of the ways this artform came to me I am now passing it on to my daughter, my niece, nephew, the people who are working with us.

The mural “We Been Healing That Way” stands in the parking lot at the Jacoby Storehouse in Arcata. | Photo by Abraham Navarro

Allen has also intertwined his artistic eye with his craftsmanship skills through redwood carving. Since his childhood, he has always seen his father and uncle carving redwood chairs. Art has always been around him.

“My dad and my uncles were these Indian logger guys of the day in the 70’s and they would have these rough carved ones with the chainsaw laying around the yard and it’d be like Indigenous lawn furniture,” Allen said.

In 2000, he took his own shot at carving a redwood chair that he saw around in his childhood. Later in 2017, he was able to have his chair carvings molded and created into concrete replicas for the Yurok Tribe on the Klamath Blvd. project, funded by the National Endowments for the Arts. His concrete carving replicas are now on display at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences.

Growing up in artistic spaces, Allen’s passion for art began early in his childhood. Now, he’s able to pass on his legacy to the next generation by collaborating with his daughter, nieces, nephews and other youth groups, similar to how Tripp mentored him. He continues to keep memories and culture alive through his artistic talents.

Keep up with Allen and his latest projects by following him on Instagram @upriverallen.

In 2021, Alme Allen, Julian Lang, Lyn Risling, Amtyirahm Allen, Karamachay Tripp and Eli Hensger-Aubrey working on “The Sun Set Twice On The People That Day” mural for the Eureka Street Art Festival. | Photo by Karina Ramos Villalobos

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