Unangax̂ artist Lydia Dirks designs logo for this year’s KUCB sweatshirt
Lydia Dirks is a 21-year-old Unangax̂ artist from Unalaska and is currently living in Anchorage, Dena'ina Ełnena territory. She takes her inspiration from her family, Unangax̂ heritage, and other Indigenous artists, and hopes to use her work to inspire others to find healing through art.
Dirks designed this year’s KUCB sweatshirt, which will be available at the station’s upcoming pledge drive on Oct. 29. She has also created designs for the Museum of the Aleutians and the Unalaska Visitors Bureau. You can find her work on Instagram or at MOTA.
KUCB’s Kanesia McGlashan-Price sat down with Dirks to talk about her inspiration as an Unangax̂ artist.
Lydia Dirks: I like to describe my artwork as traditional art with a modern twist. I like to include a lot of shapes, waves, and flow. I like my artwork to look very mystical and alive. I want someone to be able to look at my artwork and be able to hear the waves and hear the bells — the chimes and the sparkles.
Kanesia McGlashan-Price: When did you start making art?
Dirks: I was pretty encouraged at a young age to do art because of my dad, Michael Dirks Sr. He’s popularly known for his traditional mask carvings, but he is a multimedia artist. So at a very young age, I was always encouraged to follow my dad's footsteps.
McGlashan-Price: What inspires you in art and in life?
Dirks: There are a lot of things that inspire me, but if I had to break it down into three things, it would definitely be my family. My whole entire family is filled with artists — my mom, she writes poetry, and again, my dad is famously known for his traditional mask carvings. And my cousin's — they paint and they do all sorts of art. My auntie's, my uncle's, my mom, my brothers and sister, they all do some sort of art. Whether it's singing, painting, drawing or fishing.
I keep going back to my dad, because he really taught me how to draw and he always encouraged me to draw. Some of my first memories were playing with his paint and his carving tools. I wasn't allowed to, but whenever he was gone out of the house, I would play with this paint. And before he passed away, he showed me some of the little drawings I did in his Bible. And also my mom — she has some little doodles and drawings I did when I was a really, really young girl in her cookbooks. So it's just really cute to see that.
Other indigenous women as well — indigenous artists really inspired me, this is a community that I fit in so well with and somewhere I feel like I finally belong for the first time in my life.
And my friends, too — I have a lot of friends that are so supportive — they're always encouraging me to do art — they are happy to see me do it [art] and I also try to inspire them to do it [art]. We get together and we just paint sometimes, and it's a good place to let out our creativity. It's also a good place to talk and have a little therapy session, and we have a lot of fun. It's something that you can do without any mind altering substances, which is something I really like to do. Throughout the past two years, my family and I have experienced a lot of loss and grief, so having art as a way to escape is healthy, and it's something I can share with the world.
McGlashan-Price: What do you hope to show or inspire with your artwork?
Dirks: It's other indigenous artists that inspire me so much, and I hope to be someone that inspires a younger audience as well — or whatever aged audience if you want to start doing art. I think that literally anyone can do art — I know that's a very ‘Bob Ross’ thing to say, but it's so true because it's just a matter of doing it and having the taste and an eye for it. But I just hope to inspire other people to do art. This is, again, something that you can do for free — it's something that will genuinely help you. Even if you don't want to draw, you can paint, you can work on music, you can do photography, you know, and again, my art — it really helps me heal. It helps me express my emotions. I just hope that other people see that and want to do the same thing.
McGlashan-Price: So Lydia, you designed the print for this year's KUCB sweater, what was the inspiration and process for creating that?
Dirks: First of all, thank you all for giving me free range. I really appreciate it when people come to me because they genuinely enjoy my art — it gives me more inspiration to do what I want to do.
So at the time that I was doing this piece, my partner was getting ready to go halibut fishing, and halibut are actually my favorite thing to draw. I used to be scared of them as a kid because I thought they were such an ugly fish. So I was like ‘I've never seen a cute halibut’ I guess you can say. And Dutch Harbor is such a big fishing town, I wanted [to create] something that everybody loves.
As for the red circle, my grandma Irene McGlashan — everybody calls her "Honey" — she was on my mind while drawing that piece. And when my brother and I moved back to Dutch for a short time, she used to drive us to school and she was the first person I heard the saying ‘Red skies in the morning, sailors take warning. Red Skies at night, sailor's delight’. So she inspired me for the red circle in the middle — it's supposed to represent a red sky at night, sailor's delight. And again, I included some traditional Unangan symbols to represent the culture.