Public Art Fund debuts In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra, a monumental Cor-Ten steel sculpture by artist Nicholas Galanin. The artist’s first public artwork in New York City, this new 30-foot tall sculpture combines references to the U.S.-Mexico border wall and Pop Art, serving as a point of focus to consider the legacy of colonization and its impact on migration and our relationships with Land across generations, cultures, and communities. In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra questions the concept of border walls, which are designed to cut across land and water, restricting access to the migratory routes necessary for various life forms. The sculpture is constructed using the identical material and scale of the U.S.-Mexico border wall, deploying materials that may otherwise have been destined for the construction of the wall. Spelling out the word “LAND” as a multiplied and dynamic sculptural form, Galanin’s work defeats the function of the wall as a barrier to entry, focusing instead on the Indigenous connection with Land and mutual sustainability that transcends borders
Galanin is a member of the Sitka Tribe of Alaska (b.1979 Sitka; Lingít and Unangax̂). As an Indigenous person, he practices subsistence in his homeland. For him, the free movement of life is essential, and all life is deeply connected to Land. Galanin adapts aspects of pop art and minimalism, such as repetition, text, and industrial production to protest oppressive systems of division and control. The title, In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra, combines English and Spanish, two languages imposed in North America since colonization. The work reminds us that Indigenous peoples persist and permeate borders despite the forcible removal of rights, languages, and access to Land and Water. For Galanin, “barriers to Land directly reflect barriers to love, love for Land, for community and for future generations.”
Nicholas Galanin earned a BFA at London Guildhall University (2003), an MFA at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand (2007), and apprenticed with master carvers and jewelers. He currently lives and works with his family in Sitka, Alaska. Galanin participated in Desert X, Palm Springs (2021); Biennale of Sydney (2020); Whitney Biennial (2019); Honolulu Biennial (2019); and Venice Biennale (2017). Galanin’s work is in permanent collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Brooklyn Museum; Seatle Art Museum; Art Bridges Foundation, Arkansas; The Phillips Collection, Washington D.C.; Philadelphia Museum of Art; Art Institute of Chicago; Detroit Institute of Arts; The National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa; The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Denver Art Museum; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; and Princeton University. He received an award from American Academy of Arts and Letters (2020) and received a Soros Arts Fellowship (2020).
Nicholas Galanin also has upcoming solo exhibitions at SITE Santa Fe (2023) and Baltimore Museum of Art (2024), and will be participating in the Liverpool Biennial (2023).
Resisting categorization, In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra simultaneously references the U.S. border wall, mass marketing, as well as an Indigenous conception of fluid communities and interconnected Land. In contrast to the divisiveness, exclusion, and violence represented by the border wall, these 30-foot tall layered steel walls spell out the word “LAND,” a call for care and reflection on the geographies we traverse. Galanin draws the form and font of the sculpture from recognizable Pop Art imagery to implicate mass media and pop culture in the dissemination of nationalism. With a title that includes both English and Spanish, two languages imposed by colonial regimes on either side of the border, Galanin’s work calls into question non-Indigenous approaches to ownership and national borders. Through language, form, and material, Galanin imbues the work with layers of criticality for how the notions of division and Land ownership are upheld, calling attention to the consequences of enforced exclusion that divides peoples and Land for extractive purposes.
“Nicholas Galanin has developed one of the most distinctive and powerful bodies of work in contemporary North American art. It is profoundly shaped not only by his Lingít and Unangax̂ heritage, knowledge, and practice, but also by his facility with the forms and concepts of international contemporary art. This Public Art Fund commission, his first public project for New York City, promises to be a major cultural event.”
-Nicholas Baume, Public Art Fund Artistic & Executive Director
"I feel like this work is relevant not only now, but also historically and potentially, as we move forward in the future about the colonial violence on land, and how these fabricated borders are shaped to either restrict access or are to try to protect an idea of something, I suppose. This not only impacts humans, but also every other being we share the land with. I do a lot of grant based work as an Indigenous artist living in my ancestral homelands and being deeply aware of the connection to place and how that shapes us."
-Nicholas Galanin, Interviewed in Documented
“Indigenous care for Land and community is rooted in connection based on mutual sustainability. Rather than nationalism or capital, this perspective always embodies a deep respect for life beyond any single generation. In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra questions barriers to Land, which directly reflect barriers to love, love for Land, community, and future generations."
-Nicholas Galanin, Public Art Fund Press Release
At a time of growing divisions across barriers and borders, In every language there is Land / En cada lengua hay una Tierra questions the reduction and enforced limitation on relationships with Land. Through multifaceted art historical and political references, Galanin transforms what he sees as the oppressive and violent structure of a border wall into a sculpture rooted in connection to Land, centered on mutual care and an embodiment of respect for life beyond any single generation or species.
"The language reference of this understands that not only is it a physical history and space, but this type of colonialism and genocide takes many forms, and that’s especially experienced through our languages. I come from Tlingit and Unangax background, and I have an ancestral lineage here in southeast Alaska, and one of the largest cultural battlefields is language. We’re still dealing with that now, where there is revitalisation of language in relationship not only to our culture and history, but also to place and place names. This work is in conversation with that." - Nicholas Galanin, interview with The Art Newspaper
Below is a list of local support for organizations relevant to this work and the events impacting migrants in the communit; particularly in NYC right now: