Artwork Honors Indigenous Peoples’ Perseverance and Traditions

Monday, November 07, 2022

Commemorative artwork honoring the Indigenous peoples of southeastern North Carolina was unveiled on Nov. 3 during a special ceremony on the UNCW campus.

Artist Jessica Clark, a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, was commissioned to create the piece. The project brings awareness to contemporary Native issues while celebrating Indigenous people’s perseverance and traditions, said Clark. The compositions of the paintings consist of personal photos and photos collected from members of Native communities, including the Lumbee and Waccamaw Siouan.

The three paintings reflect different themes. We are Advocates illustrates how Indigenous people have brought awareness to issues such as representation, education, environmental genocide and Missing and Murdered Indigenous Peoples. We are Protectors portrays landscapes of the Cape Fear region and Indigenous people's relationship to the land. In We are the Seeds, the focus is on corn, a food staple in numerous Indigenous communities.

"With this work, I wanted to merge historical and contemporary issues," said Clark, who is known for her figurative works of southeastern Indigenous peoples, which document and preserve their everyday lives. She described the artwork as a "labor of love" and appreciated the opportunity to celebrate and showcase Indigenous peoples. 

"I hope students can see part of themselves in the artwork and relate to it in some way, whether they are Native or non-Native," said Clark. "I also hope it will spark an interest, and they will start to research who these people are and realize that southeastern Natives are still here."

The project is a collaboration among the university’s Office of the Arts, the Office of Institutional Diversity and Inclusion, members of several North Carolina tribal communities, and a component of the Office of the Arts' "Artivism For Social Change" initiative, a collaborative series of arts events and programs. The unveiling was preceded by an afternoon of performances highlighting Indigenous culture.

Dr. Donyell Roseboro, the university's chief diversity officer, noted the project is about recognizing the campus's diverse community. UNCW currently has 102 students who identify as Native American. 

"It is a number that troubles me; at the same time, it reminds me that presence matters," she said. "We will love those who are here while we purposefully, thoughtfully, carefully create a campus that draws more Indigenous students and their families here.”

Nancy Strickland Fields, the director and curator of the Museum of the Southeast American Indian at the University of North Carolina Pembroke, provided a description of the Native landscape and the lives of Indigenous peoples of southeastern North Carolina as far back as 1526.

"What Jessica Clark has created in her three public art pieces is essentially what the historical record has also done. She has given us a glimpse into the lives of Native peoples today," said Fields. "Native people have thrived in this place for thousands of years, as they do today. UNC Wilmington has made a commitment to the promotion and celebration of Native peoples on this campus and in this community."

For Pamela Young-Jacobs, vice chair of the Waccamaw Siouan Tribe of North Carolina, unveiling the artwork was an emotional moment.

"I am thankful for UNCW and to all of you who have taken time to recognize us as a people," she said.

The artwork will be installed on the second floor of the Fisher Student Union. The public can view additional artwork by Clark at the Sherman Hayes Gallery located on the first floor of Randall Library. View the slideshow highlighting the celebration.  

-- Venita Jenkins

Artist Jessica Clark and Alexis Raeana Jones ’19 stand in front of one of Clark's paintings

Artist Jessica Clark and Alexis Raeana Jones ’19, both members of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina, stand in front of We are Advocates, one of three paintiings honoring the Indigenous peoples of southeastern North Carolina.