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The art collective reimagining the past and future for WOC

Hailing from San Francisco, these women of colour artists are fighting back against the Western, male, white-dominated narrative the historical and art worlds wrongfully present

The history that we're taught in school, that informs the countless dramas and documentaries on TV and in film, is never really the full story. It's been carefully curated and selected by old, white, rich men who've had the means to write down a version of time that suits them. Is this what the future holds too? Not if Black Salt Collective have anything to do with it.

A collective hailing from Oakland and Los Angeles, this group, made up of women of colour, are creating their own dialogue that acknowledges the past for those who have been erased, and presents a future. Visions Into Infinite Archives, a group exhibition curated by the group, seeks to reimagine the past and future to present an alternative perspective on the inter-connectedness of individual and cultural narratives. It features 30 artists of colour railing against the Western, white-centric narrative that erases the cultural identity of those who don't fit with it's trajectories. The artists work within the theme of defying institutional oppression, creating a space that elevates the work of those glossed over in history, and those with uncertain futures.

We spoke to the trailblazers to see what it's like as a woman of colour in the art world, and what the future holds.

How was the Black Salt Collective founded?

Grace Rosario Perkins: It started as a smaller group in 2012 that expanded to the one now. It was born like most collaborations through conversations. As women of color it made sense to communicate a need for space and how working together would secure this space. We never knew what it would really become and as it grows and the scope of our projects grow, we are comfortably shifting and learning what it means for us to have this convergence of voices and ideas. We all knew each other in different capacities, some of us very close, while also all of us already had an overall respect for one another’s work.

What are your individual aims as artists?

Jeepneys: My art practice is healing. Jeepneys is a re-indigenised mythical and real universe with its own language and style. The bodysuits represent a skin, they’re a reference to pre-colonial Philippines when we were all naked and tattooed, but they – all of it – is from the deep future and the deep past simultaneously. This multiplicitous universe is constantly changing.  Being mixed race and a child of immigrants, I feel like a hybrid human alien and I created Jeepneys as a way to bring shades of that reality, put them through a wormhole, and analyse what happens with sounds, movements, objects, and moving images. My practice is becoming more and more social as I find that working with others (especially other women of colour) provides a healing space of friendship through artistic collaboration.

Adee Roberson: My work is about expansive Blackness. I want to create as much work as I can, all the time.  In the essence of; transmuting the oppressive constructs of my intersectional identities, into symbolic paintings, and sounds. Basically, my goal is to eventually have a giant studio. A place where I can make thousands of paintings, and make a couple of house and spaced out dub albums. Preferably in a place with a tropical climate.

“Non-white artists are relegated to footnotes or passing attention, especially when their work pushes against the boundaries of the canon” – Sarah Biscarra Dilley

Sarah Biscarra Dilley: My visual and artistic practice centers an indigenous worldview – one that is represented by an understanding of interdependence, in the ways we are all implicated in the making of the moment we live in, and complex and changing experiences with space, place, land and home mirrored through a non-linear experience of time. So much of my work repurposes images, moving and print, to embody the changing needs and resilience of Native peoples in the ongoing process of colonisation, occupation and attempted erasure. My visual work cannot exist without my activist, intellectual, emotional  and spiritual work – it is an inextricable part of my responsibility to my community, living and not, in this lifetime. My goal is to reflect both a prayerful practice and critical redirection. All of my work, written, spoken or visual, is part of a greater ceremony for our healing as indigenous peoples, for the unquiet stories in our bloodlines and the remapping of our trauma towards generative and vibrant futures.

Grace Rosario Perkins: I want to communicate a personal and familial history – situating my existence as a Native woman as one that reverberates past timelines with the same struggles, same successes, same ways to stay grounded that has come before me and will come after me. I want to pick up the pieces from cultural erasure, cultural dissonance, and keep shaping and reshaping the meaning as intuitively as possible through objects, the movement of painting, and actually collaborating with my family as much as I can – from my father, an ex-activist who is now employed at a domestic violence shelter, my mother who is still on the reservation, my uncle who is a printmaker, and my grandmother who went to an Indian boarding school and is the last fluent Diné speaker in my family. As an artist, I want to reflect how important it is for me to say to my grandmother on the phone, “Ayóó ánííníshí,” which not only means “I love you” but “I respect you.”

What are your shared aims as a collective?

Jeepneys: To provide a space for discourse, healing, mutual support, and criticality that comes from a shared experience. It’s healing to have conversations within the collective and strategize how to be critical of institutions but at the same time move ahead in the world and take up space.

Adee Roberson: We all want to support each other and see each other do well. In our art practices, and in our lives. The collective is a space where we can give and get critical feedback on our work from people we trust.

Grace Rosario Perkins: To create atmospheric work that embodies who we are and what we envision.

What are your experiences as people of colour in the art world?

Sarah Biscarra Dilley: My broader experience is one of either complete erasure or diminutization. This is true in a historical and contemporary sense – non-white artists are relegated to footnotes or passing attention, especially when their work pushes against the boundaries of the canon, at the blind spots of curators, upon the discomfort of dominant culture. Our work, epistemologies, materials and symbology are appropriated and uncited. We are not allowed to be artists without the added disclaimer of race and gender. We are not taken seriously as movements or even as artists at all. The art world, while often believing in its ability to transgress, only reinforces the limitations of the world around us, seeking to bind us with categories that could never contain our varied and shifting experiences. Would you expect anything else?

Grace Rosario Perkins: Sometimes I feel alone but that’s where Black Salt and the conversations and friendships I have through this collective help me to grow stronger. I’ve been in countless group shows where I’ve panned around the room and there’s a lot of white people. It’s not even something I try to do, like I need to count, but there’s always a disorienting moment when you realize that the culture of these spaces is far from what I desire. The art world is full of a lot of problematic things that result in people feeling alienated, exhausted, and as a person of colour those things are just simply amplified. You just see the margins on a very personal level and unlike those who have the privilege of whiteness, you have to make a decision as to how you are going to interface with it, if at all.

What do you all aim to achieve with this month long exhibition?

Jeepneys: The idea of the archive is a way for the Western world to legitamise and canonise. We find the archive underrepresentative of our experiences. I literally break down in tears when I set foot in a Natural History Museum because I can feel the way those objects were stolen. We know that there is an infinite archive that holds our work and the work of so many others that never get recognised or canonised. Visions is a way for us to speak to the fact that the archive has been here and it will continue to be here...

Adee Roberson: We are creating this space that is documentation of our existence. It's also a great opportunity to share our work in a large scale. And to exhibit alongside people we admire and are inspired by.

Sarah Biscarra Dilley: We hope to set an intention for the visual, intellectual, conceptual and practical exhibition opportunities that we would like to participate in, support, and witness.

Grace Rosario Perkins: Once everything is up and the doors open, I hope everyone sees the way these intentions rooted in identity, history, and tenacity manifest and interact.

What are you most looking forward to about this exhibition?

Jeepneys: These pieces of art, and all of their weight and intentions, in conversation and dialogue with each other, reflecting each other in new ways.  

Adee Roberson: I'm looking forward to seeing everyone’s work in conversation, in the space. In this critical time in San Francisco, when there is a huge cultural shift happening. I'm excited about the energy that Visions Into Infinite Archives will create in the landscape here.

Grace Rosario Perkins: This is a year’s work.. I really look forward to seeing so many people come together. There are 30 artists total involved and I am endlessly inspired by so many of these artists individually but what I am most excited about is how they come together in conversation sharing a physical gallery space and... the relationships that will be created and nourished therein.

Sarah Biscarra Dilley: Watching this living map of relationships come to life in the space. As Grace mentioned, this has been a project unfolding over time, with each artist hand-picked by collective member as someone who inspires them, whose work gives them the chills, whose practice is dedicated, whose conceptual contribution is sharp and necessary. I look forward to sharing the room with these artists and their work as a true blessing that will reverberate out from the space.

“If people want to tokenise artists of colour, that’s their loss and in the end the lack of intention and respect in these situations is usually apparent” – Grace Rosario Perkins

There’s been a rise in visibility for people of colour in arts and culture recently. Do you think this is genuine change or more tokenism?

Adee Roberson: I think people of color have always been leading innovators of style, beauty, and creative subversiveness. Through social media, and the access it provides, to share ideas and visions, more people are able to see the world for what it really is. The future is here!

Grace Rosario Perkins: If people want to tokenise artists of colour, that’s their loss and in the end the lack of intention and respect in these situations is usually apparent. The people doing the work will band together and that’s where the real results are. It’s a never ending process.

What are the collectives plans for the future?

Adee Roberson: We are working on a book!

Grace Rosario Perkins: Yes, the book that will be released this year sometime through E.M. Wolfman Editions based in Oakland… and hopefully more collaboration – performance, music, video, and installations together. We always find a way to merge our practices and that is the core of what we do.

Sarah Biscarra Dilley: Continuing to build loving relationships of trust and respect with one another so we truly collaborate across our experiences as women of colour with vastly different experiences and continue mapping our resilience.