Alicia Saltina Marie Clark Talks Painting Pixelated Indians, Preserving Culture
Indian Country Today
In her popular “Pixel Kids” series, Alicia “Saltina” Marie Clark, an enrolled member of the Caddo Nation, depicts children wearing regalia in pixelated color. Her works plays off the immersion of today’s youth in digital culture, as well as the similarities between beadwork images and a pixelated rendering on a computer. At once, she expresses the adaptation of indigenous peoples, while shining light on the gradual and painful dissolution of traditional culture. “We are a people holding on to our heritage by a thread. …We have evolved to survive, but have lost so much,” Clark says.
Through Pixel Kids, Clark juxtaposes gray-scale sketches in charcoal and graphite with bold color painted in contemporary patterns. She sketches body parts and facial expressions using a non-permanent medium, reflective of the transient nature of the human body. “I use the more permanent medium of paint for the clothing. Like our own clothes, when we pass on, our clothes and fabrics are sold, given away, or preserved in museums,” she says. She views her work through a philosophical lens, showcasing natives in the past, present and future within one portrait.
Clark’s work was recently on display at DNA Galleries in June and July alongside that of Joshua Garrett, Muscogee/Seminole (Check out: Q&A: The Captivating ‘Porretv’ or Witchcraft Art of Joshua Garrett). Since June 9 through September 9, 2017, Clark’s art will be on display at The Art Hall OKC at The Rise. A nontraditional, public gallery space, The Art Hall opened in early 2016 on NW 23rd Street in the revitalized Uptown District of Oklahoma City. Paseo Arts Space in Oklahoma City will debut her first solo art show March 2- 31, 2018. Check out Clark’s art at aliciaclarksart.com, and follow her on Instagram @saltstina.
Clark’s message and art also underscore indigenous resilience, and the power of culture to strengthen and empower native people. “We exist, we are here and we are telling our stories. …I’m telling my stories and those wise stories of my ancestors through my art. …The world is changing by the moment and we are learning to change with it and hold on to our values and traditions at the same time. If we let these things go, we become lost. When we are lost we chase after what’s missing, when we can’t find it we fill the void, which leads to substance abuse, which leads to violence. Even violence against our own people and loved ones.”
Clark is particularly adept at merging art with story. She discovered traditional tales recorded by George Amos Dorsey in the book Traditions of the Caddo. Assigned by the Carnegie Institution of Washington, Dorsey recounted stories told by Clark’s great-great-great grandmother Annie Wilson, her father Moon-Light, and her Grandfather White-Bread, among Clark’s other relatives. “These tales told about the Girl who married a Star, the Coyote who regulates life and death, the Rabbit and the Dancing Turkeys, etc. I have been incorporating these stories into paintings. I believe this is a step in continuing the preservation of my ancestors,” Clark says.
Clark has traveled North America extensively, learning from people who live in primitive ways. She has learned how to tan hides, make bone jewelry, spin wool, start a fire without fire, dye natural fibers with plants, and identify wild edible plants.
She describes it as “brutal but sacred work. It seems we’ve taken the sacred out of most things. Machines spin wool, dye fibers, and mix plant chemicals with man-made chemicals to make medicine. We can even push a button to start a fire. It’s interesting to me how far we’ve come but how much skill we’ve lost. How much mystery there is about where something comes from or how it is made.”
Her experiences learning to survive off the land further helped her appreciate her ancestors. “I know for sure I want to incorporate some hand dyed fibers in my future work,” she added.
After five years of travel, Clark returned to Oklahoma City, where she now raises her three-month-old and a three-year-old. “My little family has helped my soul settle,” she says. “I’m no longer on the run for the next best thing or chasing after what I’m missing, because I’m not missing a thing.”
Going forward, Clark aspires for her art to raise awareness and contribute to environmental and humanitarian causes and world peace. She hopes her work serves a purpose and that it inspires others to preserve their own cultural history, as well as to appreciate the beauty of life. “I really hope to bring awareness to an ever-changing world that we need to keep things sacred. Although we all might think we are invincible, and that the Earth is invincible, life is really delicate,” she says. “…Be grateful for the Earth and the Universe and the Source and all it gives to you.”