Black Salt: artists as leaders


The art collective Black Salt channels lived experience and memory into beautiful works that celebrate the marginalized, elevate the neglected, and remember the forgotten. The work being created is at once enigmatically radiant and joyously tragic, a testament to their ability to channel the undercurrent of experience and give expression to the spirit of the outsider.

Made up of queer Women of Color, the group is intent on creating connection to ancestry and lost history and giving it form in the present.

“One of the first things a colonizing power or repressive regime does is to attack the sense of history of those they wish to dominate and attempt to take over and control people’s relationships to their own past,” states Aurora Levins Morales in her work, “Historian as Curandera.”

Living in a post-colonial society as a person of color is to live in a present where your history, ancestry, and roots have been forcibly ripped out from under you. Black Salt is intent on reconnecting to those roots in an effort to heal and support themselves, and to celebrate ancestral ties that have been denied for too long.

Their mission statement, “Black Salt embodies cultural and contemporary narratives. The work is cultural, but not ‘cultural’ in the anthropological sense of the word, as cultural art is often seen through a Western lens,” hints at the importance of their work.

The Western lens is one that commodifies culture, making everything available at the market for a price, including cultural history. Adee Roberson of Black Salt does not identify with the contemporary art world, saying “usually I feel the art world is a lot of white people taking derivatives from [other cultures]or culturally appropriating, but we’re trying to figure out how to collaborate and share in a pre-colonized way.”

The founders of the group, Grace Rosario Perkins, Adee Roberson, and Fanciulla Gentile ended up living in the same house, and the group started organically from conversations about mutual feelings of alienation and isolation—“we always felt like we had been brought together for a reason,” said Fanciulla Gentile. “We decided to start a collective, a space to elevate us, to see how we can support each other and work together.”

“We’re all on the same page—we’re all on the same path,” Roberson told dot429, “creating something new through having a connection to our past and to our families and to our culture.”

Their process is intuitive and instinctual, expressing the lived experience of the artist, and forging connections to forgotten history. “I never plan a piece—I just start and I feel,” said Perkins.

“It’s like channeling,” said Roberson of her work.

One piece in particular, honoring Honey from the feminist pseudo-documentary Born in Flames, stands out as a piece inspired by psychic connection. “I was looking her up on the internet [while working on the piece], and I realized that she had just died. She must’ve hit me up—like hey, I’m not done, I’m ready to come up. It was weird because I didn’t know what I was doing, I just felt that I need to do this about this person.”

“We just do it, and we don’t second guess ourselves,” Perkins told dot429. “People make you feel like you have to have this process, and everything has to be written down, formalized.”

“And that’s the institution, that’s racist, and it’s white, and it’s American,” said Roberson. “I’m creating from my heart and soul and spirit. I don’t need that to be tainted by racism and homophobia in an institutionalized setting.”

“I make art about who I am and where I’m from,” said Perkins, “my work is really stream of consciousness, it’s about language.” Living on a reservation before moving to the Bay Area to attend school, Perkins felt “isolated, [and]had no friends. Coming here was a big shift, and a lot of my work is about time, about shifts.”

“I think that’s why our work is really powerful and important,” said Roberson. “We don’t need validation from a system or an institution. I make [art]for the people that can look at it and relate to it.”

Their next project, Initiation, is about creating connection to each other, having recently expanded by adding their two newest members, Ana Luisa Petrisko and Sarah Sass Biscarra-Dilley.

“We all want to get attuned to each other, figure out what our style is together,” Roberson told dot429.

“We’re all excited about the potential that we see in each other, to go to a space together and only create art,” said Fanciulla Gentile.

The project will be part narrative and part documentary, inspired by revisionist works such as Born in Flames, Downtown 81, and Space is the Place. The intention is to document what has not been documented, the experiences of the marginalized in the art scene.”There’s just this urgency, and it feels really important right now. Now is the time to have minorities and women of color and queer people at the forefront of everything,” said Roberson.

“Visually seeing yourself in art—girls of color don’t really see themselves in art—so to create images where people see themselves—it’s healing to put the energy out there.”

Black Salt’s website can be found here. They’ve also been covered by The Le Sigh, and raved about by Kathleen Hannah on her blog. Check out their new project, Initiation, here.


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