SEATTLE, WA.- The Tlingit people thrived for millennia until multiple waves of colonialism swept over their homelands. Before Russian and American settlement, the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian peoples of present-day southeast Alaska had already developed complex knowledge systems, from cosmology to medicine, expressed through their languages, ceremonies, and art.
Alison Marks, a Tlingit artist, draws from these traditions while directly challenging our perceptions of them, particularly the expectation that Native artists must perform exoticized markers of Native identity to be considered legitimate. Her work fuses the seamless, flowing lines, trigons, and ovoids that create formlinethe distinctive aesthetic of the Native peoples of the northern Northwest Coastwith nontraditional materials, tools, and techniques. The resulting objects and images engage the evolving complexities posed by transcultural exchange in the twenty-first century.
The title of the exhibition stems from Markss discovery of her first gray hair. This event prompted her to reflect on the contrast between customary Tlingit standards of female beauty, which value gray hair, and Western standards, which decry it. The paintings, sculptures, digital collages, and regalia that compose One Gray Hair explore the tensions between tradition and innovation, layering Markss experience as a child of both Native and non-Native cultures.
The strategy of subverting dominant cultural representations and narratives is central to her practice: some works use humor to counter the patriarchal and racial bias of the art historical canon; others adopt the language of commercial advertising to address the endless appropriation of the totem pole. In particular, Marks is observant of how the use of digital technology influences Tlingit culture and language, which is predicted to lose its fluent speakers by 2030.
At each turn, One Gray Hair asserts that Indigenous identity, vitality, and expression are shaped as much by humor and available materials as by tradition. Markss art is a testament to the extraordinary possibilities of today, when we have the confidence and the power to reclaim our Native languages and icons. She draws the past into the present, charting possibilities for the future, proving that we hold the ability to shape the fate of Tlingit culture in our capable and caring hands.
Yee gu.aa yáx x´wán. Have courage, all of you.
Miranda Belarde-Lewis Zuni/Tlingit
Alison (Bremner) Marks (Tlingit, b. 1989) was born and raised in southeast Alaska. In addition to her contemporary art practice, Marks is committed to the revitalization of Tlingit culture and the creation of art for traditional and ceremonial use. She studied under master artists David R. Boxley and David A. Boxley in Kingston, Washington. Marks has participated in group exhibitions at, among others, the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art; Whatcom Museum, Bellingham; Château Musée Boulogne-sur-Mer, France; Art Mûr, Montreal; and Audain Gallery, Vancouver. Her work is held in numerous public collections at institutions such as the Burke Museum in Seattle; Portland Art Museum, Oregon; Sealaska Heritage Institute in Juneau, Alaska; and the British Museum in London.
Marks received the 2015 James W. Ray Venture Project Award, which is funded by the Raynier Institute & Foundation through the Frye Art Museum | Artist Trust Consortium. The award supports and advances the creative work of outstanding artists living and working in Washington State and culminates in an exhibition at the Frye Art Museum.