I was born in 1969 in Comox, British Columbia. I am a member of the Dzawada'enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations, my mother being Dzawada'enuxw and my father a Scottish immigrant from the Isle of Lewis. In 1996 I graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design. In 1999 I completed a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Victoria. In the early 1990s I apprenticed with a master carver in traditional Kwakwaka'wakw design. Since 1992 I have exhibited work locally, nationally and internationally, mostly in public art galleries and site-specific works. I create both strictly traditional works for ceremonial purposes confined to the Kwakwaka'wakw community, and conceptually based works for public art spaces.

My work for public art spaces are extensions on traditional Northwest Coast artistic expressions. I engage in the exploration of traditional concepts and incorporate contemporary media into the visual presentation of these concepts. While I consider that the material component of Northwest Coast cultural production is well represented in museums and commercial galleries, I fear that the conceptual foundations of this work are endangered owing to radical acculturation and language loss. Creating artworks that address these issues and express traditional concepts in new ways in public art spaces is my way of perpetuating and preserving Kwakwaka'wakw/Aboriginal culture as well as sharing those concepts with a wider audience.

Currently, in addition to my art practice, I am completing an Interdisciplinary PhD in Linguistics and Anthropology that investigates the relationship of the Kwak'wala language to cultural ceremonialism and art production. This research helps inform my contemporary works.


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Detail view of the cliff paintingTwo people on a scaffold, painting the design on the cliffA wide shot of the cliff painting in situ


Marianne Nicolson

Marianne Nicolson is a member of the Dzawada'enuxw Tribe of the Kwakwaka'wakw First Nations who reside on the coastal mainland of British Columbia. She holds a BFA from Emily Carr Institute of Art and Design and a MFA in Visual Art from the University of Victoria. As an artist, her work has been shown both nationally and internationally at venues such as the National Indian Art Centre, the Taipei Fine Arts Museum, the Jordan National Gallery, the Vancouver Art Gallery and the National Gallery of Canada. Most recently, she opened a solo exhibition at the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria in Victoria B.C. in November 2007. Her artworks are contemporary expressions of traditional Kwakwaka'wakw concepts. Due to an emerging belief that these concepts could be better understood through comprehension of the Kwak'wala language and a growing concern over the endangered status of this indigenous language, she engaged in linguistic and anthropological study at the University of Victoria where she completed an Interdisciplinary MA in 2005. Currently she is conducting PhD research involving the conceptualization of space and time in Kwakwaka'wakw language and art and the importance of indigenous language to indigenous worldview.


This short and utterly silent video begins from the vantage point of a boat drifting on water. The camera points toward the shore, thick with trees. Their branches are reflected in the grey-green waters of Kingcome Inlet, a fjord carved out by the slow-moving glaciers of the last ice age, ancient home of the Dzawad'enuxw. Downstream, a light, butter-yellow cliff stands out from the lush greenery that grows on either side of it. Suddenly the boat is abreast of the cliff and we can see that something is painted on its face. The camera focuses in, revealing the red ochre painting drawn in bold lines on the vertical landscape. It is both ancient and modern - a neo-petroglyph visible only from the water. The camera lingers for a moment on the design of a copper - traditional emblem of wealth and lineage - and then slowly and gently pulls away. The light fades; it is done.

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