Gerald Clarke is among several Native American artists featured in a Nov. 29, 2018 article by Dina Gilio-Whitaker.
The following are excerpts from the article.
How Native Americans in the arts are preserving tradition in a changing world
A detail of the "Continuum Basket," by Cahuilla artist Gerald Clarke Jr., made of aluminum cans, at the "Junipero Serra and the Legacies of the California Missions" 2013 exhibit at the the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens. (Liz O. Baylen / Los Angeles Times)
Despite the career viability of art, there is nothing easy about being an Indian artist.
In Native societies, art was integrated into the act of making everyday things and art objects were often ceremonial; Native people frequently note that the word “art” is virtually unknown in indigenous languages. Today, making a living as an artist is mediated by market forces with demands of its own. At stake are complex dynamics that weave together identity and culture with non-Native expectations about value based on authenticity. This inevitably involves stubborn stereotypes born from lack of knowledge. It also means that the Native artist, no matter the genre or medium, wittingly or unwittingly is cast in the role of educator.
“I fell into a trap for 10 years or more of trying to educate the non-Native about what Natives were about,” says Gerald Clarke Jr., a Cahuilla artist known for his large welded sculptures. “It’s a trap because the default setting for mainstream America is that the artist is the ambassador of the community, and that almost replaces the interest in the artist’s own creativity.”
Clarke, also a professor of ethnic studies at UC Riverside, infuses his Cahuilla identity into painted works and sculptures, which he creates often from found objects and garbage. His massive 6-foot basket made from crushed beer and soda cans has been widely exhibited, including at the Autry Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.
Cahuilla artist Gerald Clarke Jr. poses for a portrait with his artwork titled "Disenrollment," at his home on the Cahuilla Indian reservation on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 in Anza, Calif. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)
Art as cultural sovereignty
Detail of Cahuilla artist Gerald Clarke Jr.'s work titled "Native American," photographed at his home on the Cahuilla Indian reservation on Monday, Nov. 26, 2018 in Anza, Calif. Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times