“Spiritually and mentally, art helps me escape from prison,” said Joseph “Jo-Joe” Salazar. “It is medicine to me. It is beautiful that my creator gifted me with this talent.”
Salazar plays the guitar, harmonica, and drums — abilities, he says, that have kept him going during his incarceration. Art is deeper than just passing time, Salazar says.
The 63-year-old says his artistic family tree connects from his ancestors to his grandchild.
“Art is in my genes. It’s in my blood, and mainly, in my culture,” said Salazar.
He has been sketching all his life. In elementary school, as a third-grader, he competed against sixth-graders.
Salazar talked about how he identifies with one of his creations, a work that shows someone surrounded by a storm, full of electricity, with eagle feathers and a red circle in the center.
“My life has been a storm, it is time for me to get off this storm,” Salazar said, referring to his multiple prison terms, noting that he doesn’t want become a third-striker.
He appreciates a south-western-style of art because it’s inspirational and brings out his creativity.
In just one night, he created A Young Brave with eagle feathers, representing Native regalia.
The subject of the painting wears traditional jewelry with red and white face paint — ready for an ancestral celebration.
For another of his creations, Hawk, he noted a hawk was tied up to represent that “we are tied up behind these prison walls.”
With the Arts in Corrections room closed during the pandemic, Salazar spent more time sketching and painting at the tables in his unit.
“It was like a movement against the deadly virus,” said Salazar.
He wants all American Natives to share the message of love, not only through their way of life, but also in the way that art connects them with their culture.
He notes the historical oppression of Natives, as well as the damage inflicted by climate change, is all “due to poor care from politicians.”
He says he is “heartbroken that humanity is not doing enough to protect our Mother Nature; she is the soul and backbone of our planet. The rain forests are the heart and the lungs of our Mother Nature. Our oil fields are being exploited; there are no more rain forests.”
Salazar paroled on May 26. He is embracing his new journey as a freed hawk, soaring into modern civilization, finally free from bondage.