It took the whole summer, but Zachariah Martin’s latest addition to EXIT Art at the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) is finally complete.
EXIT Art is a dedicated student art wall in the back staircase of UAA’s Fine Arts Building. Zach’s 8-foot, 5-inch by 8-foot, 2-inch panel is the first installed on a ceiling panel, angled at 45 degrees toward the staircase. At first, the art student found it hard to adjust to broad sweeping brush strokes but “the more I went on, the more detailed it got and the more ideas I got for it.”
Zach originally hails from the Ahtna Region—Tanana Athabascan on father Karl Martin Jr.’s side and Ahtna Athabascan on mother Kathryn’s side. During the school years, he would live with family in Anchorage, but return home in summers.
Zach used a chapter of Alaska Native history known as the “First Great Death” as the inspiration for his panel. That era arrived when the first Westerners ushered in diseases and assimilation and was followed by the Second Great Death, with the push for boarding schools and the influence of alcohol. “It was such a huge blow that it still affects things today,” Zach said.
His piece depicts the aftermath of the First Great Death, a battlefield with blended indigenous warriors, a field of decaying totem poles and a bleeding raven skeleton. The circular frame represents the concept of time and renewal. One totem essentially serves as an artist signature, representing key aspects of Zach’s life story (a moose for his Athabascan name, a raven and mask for his clan, a marten for his last name). The diverse army — displaying elements from Africa to Asia to the Aleutians — represents the tug-of-war when races and cultures fuse. The mural’s central figure dons a golden mask, a reactionary statement on the traditionally temporary nature of Alaska Native art.
Rather than focus on the past, Zach’s art argues for a new Alaska Native awareness, one that abandons the double identity of two separate cultures. “We should mesh them together to create a new consciousness, a new identity and a new culture. And through that we would still be able to live on,” he said.