Zoë Urness

Tlingit Alaskan Native

GRANTEE: Zoë Urness
NATIVE HERITAGE: Tlingit Alaskan Native
LOCATION: Camano Island, Washington
AWARD: 2023 LIFT– Early Career Support for Native Artists 

Zoë Urness was raised in the Pacific Northwest, where she had the opportunity to become deeply involved in her Tlingit culture from her early childhood years. She moved to Santa Fe, New Mexico, after attending Brooks Institute of Photography and spent nearly ten years in the southwest where she established her signature style, fusing documentary and fine art into her photographic work.

In recent years, Urness’s work has increasingly focused on social injustice and inequalities. Drawing on her own childhood experience growing up singing, dancing, and drumming in the Tlingit dance group, the Alaskan Native Cultural Heritage Association, in Seattle, Washington, as well as traveling throughout Alaska to involve herself more in her Tlingit culture, Urness was able to forge a deeper connection with Tlingit traditions and art. This connection developed her desire for sharing Indigenous narratives. She visually represents modern Native American life while also honoring the past. In her own words, “I choose to use my camera as a tool to link the past and present through visual stories”.

Urness was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won numerous first place ribbons from The Autry Museum, The Heard Museum and Santa Fe Indian Market in the Best of Photography. Her most notable exhibitions have been a solo exhibition with The Booth Western Art Museum, Showing at Art Basel Miami, PHOTO LA, and Minneapolis Institute of Art traveling group exhibition Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists. She exhibited her work abroad in the United Kingdom and Russia. Urness was the recipient of the 2022 Sony Alpha Female+ grant, in support of her project, Indigenous Motherhood.

I continue to use my camera as a tool to link the past and present by photographing subjects with connection to the land and traditions.”

– Zoe Urness (Tlingit Alaskan Native)


Urness’s LIFT Project, The Eternal Village and the Chilkat River, is a photographic exploration that examines the symbiotic relationship the Chilkat Tlingit Village of Klukwan has had with the Chilkat River for thousands of years. The longevity of the village is rooted in the reverence for the land, maintained through ceremony, oral history, and art. Modern day extractions of natural resources at the river’s headwaters threaten the continuation of this way of life. The exhibition will travel from visitor centers in Alaska and beyond to raise awareness and serve as a call to action to support the community of Klukwan and sustain their traditional ways.”

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