Welcome to KQED Arts’ Women to Watch, a series celebrating 20 local women artists, creatives and makers who are pushing boundaries in 2017. Driven by passion for their own disciplines, from photography to comedy and every other medium in between, these women are true vanguards paving the way in their respective communities.
Instead of describing what Black Salt Collective does, it might be easier to describe what they don’t do. Based on my preliminary research, they are not synchronized swimmers, though I wouldn't put it past the multi-talented artists and members of the collective -- Sarah Biscarra-Dilley, Grace Rosario Perkins, Anna Luisa Petrisko and Adee Roberson -- to quickly learn and perform a fabulous Esther Williams-esque routine.
Black Salt Collective’s collaborative work spans genres -- from video pieces to multimedia performances to curating sprawling exhibitions. They also produce art individually, or in twos or threes. This flexibility is an inherent part of their process, which is rooted in the respectful exchange of cultural knowledge through art.
During their 2016 stint as Facebook artists in residence, Biscarra-Dilley perfectly described the non-linear possibilities inherent in Black Salt Collective’s practice: “Part of what we’re looking at is giving ourselves the space as artists, and as women of color, to be able to have a more expansive identity than what is allowed for us in the context of culture as it is right now.”
How did Black Salt Collective come into being?
Grace: We started in 2012. Adee, Fanciulla Gentile (who makes music under The Creatrix), and I were living in a house together and were talking about creating work as women of color, looking for platforms of support, feeling alienated at times in the work we were making. This all happened one night at the dinner table. By the end of the night we came to realize we had to create just that for ourselves and others -- coming up with a name, a mission statement, creating a blog, and taking photos of us together. Within a few months, Sarah and Anna Luisa were asked to join. We grew into a dynamic group who traveled together, shot video, performed, and have now expanded into curatorial projects and more.
What can you do as a collective that you wouldn’t be able to accomplish individually?
Sarah: The first thing that comes to my mind is just the breadth of skills reflected in the collective-- everyone brings so much knowledge! It enables possibilities that are kind of kaleidoscopic, in conversation across our respective practices and in collaboration.
Anna Luisa: We are able to navigate situations in the art world with more strength because we are drawing from a shared pool of knowledge, power, and resources. This shared labor -- creative and emotional -- is actually very healing.
Adee: So many things! But what immediately comes to mind is having so much support. In the art world there’s tendency for things to be really centered around ego and the individual. To me, so much of that is tied to capitalism and patriarchy, and I don’t want my art practice to reflect that. I think when you create collectively it allows for expansiveness and depth that sometimes is hard to reach in isolation.
What’s your approach to group decision-making? Does everyone have to come to a consensus, do you divvy up responsibilities, put it a vote?
Anna Luisa: Our decision-making is mostly based on intuition, supplemented with a lot of check-ins. Consensus has never been a struggle for us, we somehow always end up on the same page.
What are you currently working on or have you been involved with recently that you’re excited about?
Anna Luisa: We are working on a book in collaboration with E.M. Wolfman. It will feature art and writing by the collective as well as many of our friends/elders, including India Cooke, Ryan Dennison, Wura-Natasha Ogunji, Weston Teruya and many others.
Do you have any women you watch?
Sarah: Well, Ociciwan Collective (Canada) and Joi Arcand (Ottawa) are new art crushes for me, but I’m always psyched to see and experience new work by Rachael Sterner (San Francisco Bay Area) and both members of Earthbound -- Jade Ariana Fair and Angel Castellon (Oakland).
Grace: Christina Marie Fong from Creativity Explored; we worked together a few years ago. I check in on her and the growth of her work as much as I can. Shawna Shawnté, a DJ and artist who is doing a lot of organizing right now for the Universe is Lit: Bay Area Black and Brown Punk Fest.
What does your ideal future look like for women artists in the Bay Area?
Sarah: Expansive, possible and grounded in responsibility to ourselves, each other, and this place.
Anna Luisa: Opportunities, funding and attention. And care for each other and for the land.
Grace: An environment of longevity, support, visibility and resources -- be that exhibition opportunities, funding or mentorship.
Adee: Abundance! And space and resources to have a sustainable practice that can grow and be nurtured over time.