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Artist Profile Series: Alison O. Marks

Erika Enomoto

Communications Manager

Alison Marks, Cultural Tourism, 2017.

Alison O. Marks (née Bremner) is a Tlingit artist from Yakutat, Alaska. She received a James W. Ray Venture Project Award from the Artist Trust | Frye Art Museum Consortium in 2015 for her project, “Grandfather Totem Pole.” Her works, including photographs documenting the totem pole’s carving process, are currently on view in an exhibition titled Alison Marks: One Gray Hair at the Frye Art Museum.

Born in Southeast Alaska and raised in two cultures: Native and part-Scottish, Irish, and English, Alison’s work illustrates her journey of forming a modern Indigenous identity. “Never being Native enough is something that I grew up with,” she says. Alison uses humor in her work to present artwork laden with social commentary while maintaining traditional and ceremonial functions. Works on view in her solo exhibition at the Frye communicate her observations on technology and social media-driven impact on contemporary society, such as the emergence of the “me” culture which she views as opposite from her communal-based Native culture.

On her experience working on “Grandfather Totem Pole,” Alison says “I learned a lot about carving, and I unexpectedly learned a great deal about Tlingit culture and myself.” The process of becoming a woodcarver heightened her awareness of the prevalence of Tlingit trinkets and tourist items sold in Juneau, Alaska, and how these commercial reproductions negatively affect the perception of native culture. Cultural Tourism (pictured), is a piece installed in an isolated area of the gallery and speaks to the discomforting reaction Alison feels when she comes into contact with these misappropriated images.

Committed to revitalizing her Tlingit culture, Alison applied for the James W. Ray Venture Project Award for the opportunity to pursue her dream project, to carve a totem pole. She studied under the guidance of Native artist and master carver David A. Boxley in Kingston, Washington. The ten-foot totem pole, carved in honor of her grandfather John Bremner, Sr., was shipped from Washington to Alaska, where it received its final touches and is awaiting to be raised in Alison’s hometown of Yakutat, in accordance with Tlingit culture. Scheduled for July 2018, the totem raising ceremony involves the support and participation of the community. The host clan Raven will invite the Eagle clan as their guest to witness the totem pole’s raising. Oral traditions and songs will be performed, including a piece thanking the tree for giving itself to the carving process.

Surprised, grateful, and honored when she learned that she had been nominated for the James W. Ray Venture Project Award, Alison’s advice to artists who are thinking of applying for Artist Trust grants, is “Ch’á yei sané,” which in English means “Just do it!”

Alison Marks: One Gray Hair is on view at the Frye Art Museum until February 4. Alison has graciously donated OwlEmoji, a piece from her series of digital paintings, to the 2018 Artist Trust Benefit Art Auction taking place at the Fisher Pavilion in Seattle Center on February 24. For more information and to purchase auction tickets, visit artisttrustauction.com.