Museum of Contemporary Native Arts

Erica Lord

Un/Defined Self-Portrait Series, 2005, C-prints, Variable dimensions, Courtesy of the artist 

Left: (Untitled) I Tan To Look More Native, 2006, Digital inkjet, 4 x 5 inches, Courtesy of the artist; Right: Artifact Piece, Revisited, 2009, Performance and mixed media installation, Courtesy of the artist

By Mique’I Askren

Of Athabascan, Inupiaq, Finnish, Swedish, English and Japanese heritage, Erica Lord’s work is tremendously influenced by both society’s response to her appearance and her life-long travel between her father’s village of Nenana, Alaska and her mother’s community in Michigan. In navigating these multiple worlds, cultures and their perceptions, she states:

Art has become my tool of translations, addressing the merging of blood, culture, gender, memory, and the idea of home…though I am telling these stories through the context of Nativeness, I believe the multiplicity of identity is something universal, a complexity that we begin to understand once we begin to deconstruct preconceived ideas and expand our intellectual limits.[1]

As an interdisciplinary artist, Lord primarily works in performance, film, photography and installation. Her pieces directly engage viewers in a dialogue that forces them to think critically about the stereotypes they hold about Native people and how these views have been long ingrained in mainstream society through popular culture, governmental policies and the media.[2] In her work Un/Defined Self-Portrait Series (2007), Lord confronts the viewer with multiple self-portraits that appear to be an array of headshots of completely different people. These diverse images work together to provoke viewers to reflect on their preconceived notions about how Native people look. Having been subjected to hurtful opinions about her facial features, eyes, and hair throughout her life, she states “Here [Alaska] I was considered a white baby by my relatives. In Michigan, I was an Indian…People say ‘you don’t look Native.’ What does that mean?”[3] Referring to the Series, she asserts, “This is what ‘Native’ looks like now.”[4]

Continuing her efforts to challenge these deep-seated prejudices, Lord sought permission from internationally renowned performance artist James Luna (Luiseño) to perform her own version of his seminal piece Artifact (1987).[5] In his mixed-media installationLuna put his body on display at the San Diego Museum of Man. Wearing only a hide breechcloth and surrounded by exhibition labels and other displays about his life, Luna’s performance was a bold statement intended to disrupt anthropological discourses concerning Native peoples, their lives and their belongings. Lord’s performance of Artifact Piece, Re-visited (2009) at both the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian in New York and the Museum of the North in Fairbanks, Alaska, brings our attention back to many of these same issues. By placing herself on display with labels referencing her body with regard to attracting a mate and childbearing however, she also critiques the historical construction of Native women under the predominately male gaze of the museum establishment.

Having received critical acclaim while showing her work both nationally and internationally, Lord now lives in Alaska for the first time since she began her artistic career. She views this return to her “home state” as being particularly significant because it has allowed her to make an even greater contribution to the dialogue on contemporary Alaska Native art by showing her work in conjunction with that of other Indigenous Alaskan artists. In her role as an adjunct professor at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, Lord teaches courses on Alaska Native performance and artistic, dramatic, and musical aesthetics.[6]

[1] Erica Lord, “Artist Statement,”

[2] Lord received her BA in liberal and studio arts from Carlton College in 2001 and her MFA in sculpture, photography, film/video at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2006. For more on Erica Lord’s education, professional experience, and exhibitions, see the CV/resume link on her website

[3] Mike Dunham, “Nenana Artist Grapples with Ethnic Identity: Camera Chameleon,” Anchorage Daily News, August 1, 2009,

[4] Ibid.

[5]. Erica Lord, “Artifact Piece, Revisited,”

[6] Lord was one of nine Alaska Native artists featured in the exhibition Dry Ice: Alaska Native Artists and the Landscape at the Alaska House in New York (2009). She exhibited her works with Tlingit artist Da-Ka-Xeen Mehner in a two-person show titled Authenticities at the Annex Gallery in Fairbanks, Alaska, in the same year. Also in 2009, she opened her first solo show in Alaska, The Search for Nuchalawoyya: Resistance and Reconciliation, at the Alaska Native Arts Foundation Gallery in Anchorage.

Visit the Erica Lord website


Additional Resources compiled by Students in the Contemporary Native American Art History course at the Institute of American Indian Arts, Spring 2013

Web-based Resources


 Lord, Erica. “Erica Lord.” Erica Lord. 2011.

Website belongs to the artist, and includes portfolio, news, contact information, links and artist’s CV/Resume.

Shleyeva, Dasha. “Erica Lord – Inupiaq / Athabaskan.” Contemporary North American Indigenous Artists. August 26, 2010.

This website provides an in-depth interview conducted with the artist, in which the artist provides insight about her various artworks. Also, website provides links to the artist’s publications and other information related to her artworks.


 Selected Bibliography


Ash-Milby, Kathleen E. Off the Map: Landscape in the Native Imagination. Washington, DC: NMAI Editions, 2007.

An NMAI exhibition catalogue featuring several images of artworks produced by the artist.

Chavez Lamar, Cynthia, Sherry Farrell Racette, and Lara Evans. Art in Our Lives: Native Women Artists in Dialogue. Santa Fe, NM: School for Advanced Research Press, 2010.

A catalogue publication, compiled with dialogue from a group of Native Women Artists; the artist assisted in creating the catalogue by speaking about gender, identity, community, and issues with creating contemporary art.

Evans, Lara. “Chapter 4: The Artifact Piece and Artifact Piece, Revisited.” In Action and Agency: Advancing the Dialogue on Native Performance Art, edited by Nancy J. Blomberg, 63-87. Denver, CO: Denver Art Museum, 2010.

This chapter explores the artist’s performance art practice, as well as an in-depth discussion of her performance/installation piece, Artifact Piece, Revisited, 2003.