How These Empowering Paintings Challenge Misconceptions of Native Women

Paige Simianer | November 23, 2022

Featured Artist Karen Clarkson uses her work as a way of storytelling to draw attention to social injustice. 

"As a Native American artist, I have made a conscious decision to paint contemporary Native women as they are in today’s world. I want to challenge misconceptions of weakness and victimhood by evoking images of empowerment and strength," Clarkson said.

Following the theme of art and activism, this artist is currently using her art to call attention to missing and murdered indigenous women. 

According to a report from the Urban Indian Health Institute, the U.S. Department of Justice reports murder rates of native women to be 10 times higher than the national average. 

This artist views art as an opportunity to weigh in on this issue deemed as an epidemic of violence. 

"Changing the narrative is a way for art to influence today's perceptions. Instead of viewing native women as victims, I have chosen to use my art to show us as strong and powerful representatives," said Clarkson.

She continued, "I am painting today's contemporary native women as advocates who are indispensable in their own story of survival."

Artwork Archive got the chance to chat with Karen Clarkson about her creative process, subject matter, and how she uses Artwork Archive to manage it all. 

You can see more of her work on Discovery and learn more about her work below. 

Untitled hanging in the Choctaw Judicial Center, Durant OK. Photo courtesy of the artist

Has your work changed over time—do you find yourself understanding your art career through different periods of expression?

My art was always my way of expressing the world around me. However, instead of painting every subject imaginable, I have become focused on painting contemporary Native women. I view my art as a type of activism. I'm trying to change popular perceptions of who these women are. As such, they have become instrumental in their own stories.

Karen Clarkson, 'Rise: Our Spirits cannot be contained. We will rise.', 24 x 18 x 1 in, 2021

Do you have a favorite or most satisfying part of your process? 

My favorite part is dreaming about what I intend to paint next. I love the beginning and the ending equally but the middle part is sometimes the hardest. I find the further along you go, the fewer choices you have when it comes to creating the story.


Can you explain more about your conscious decision to paint contemporary Native women as they are in today’s world? How do you think your work can affect societal issues when it comes to challenging misconceptions about Native women? 

Following the theme of art in activism, I am currently using my art to call attention to missing and murdered indigenous women.

This issue was highlighted in a 2018 report by the Urban Indian Health Institute, which followed a similar initiative in Canada two years earlier. In it, the U.S. Department of Justice reports murder rates of Native women as 10 times higher than the national average.

This points to what advocates say has been a nearly invisible epidemic. “Art is an opportunity to weigh in on this issue,” said U.S. Rep. Deb Haaland, a New Mexico Democrat and a member of Laguna Pueblo. “...I feel like we need to do everything we can to figure out how to stop this crisis, and the more avenues that we can talk about it and converse about it, that’s what we need to do.”

Haaland, elected in November as one of the first Native American women in Congress, has introduced legislation to address the alarming level of violence against Native women. 


Do you have a favorite piece you've ever made? If so, tell us about it!

This is hard to say as each piece is meaningful to me. I will have to say my favorite pieces have always been when I succeeded in combining symbolism and realism. The mystic quality that reveals itself is a gift all of its own. 


How do you personally define success as an artist? 

I used to set goals for myself and imagined attaining them would be the way to define success.

Having now met all those goals, I find I'm just as driven as ever to keep painting. I always tell my family I will paint whether anyone buys my art or not.

The biggest thrill is when a person is so touched by what they see in a painting it truly changes their heart—you can see it grow just a little larger.

Karen Clarkson with a happy client. Photo courtesy of the artist

Why did you decide to use Artwork Archive to inventory/manage your artwork?

First of all, I wanted a system I had confidence would not become obsolete. I have used similar systems for years only to find out the databases would no longer be compatible with newer operating systems. I think some of my needs are unique and I appreciate the ability to put together Private Viewing Rooms for my clients and galleries. 


What advice would you give an emerging artist during this time? 

Start early in your career and discipline yourself to catalog your art.

Give each piece its own identifier and keep a detailed log of the paints you used.

Immediately write down the dates you started and finished a painting.

All the other data is of course important, but these particular facts are some of the things that often get overlooked. And don't just rely on one database. Keep written records as backup!

Karen Clarkson, 'Sacred Voices', 24 x 24 x 2 in, 2020

Karen Clarkson uses Artwork Archive to inventory her artwork, stay on top of her piece details, and stay connected with her clients. 

You can make an online portfolio, catalog your artwork, and generate reports like inventory reports, tear sheets, and invoices in seconds with Artwork Archive. Take a look at Artwork Archive's free trial and start growing your art business.

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