by Jessica Borusky
In Tulsa and Oklahoma City, there are distinct desires to showcase artwork awash in contemporary socio-political issues. Current exhibitions that reverberate this desire include Remember This at the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa (through January 6th, 2019), Take a Seat: A Group Exhibition of Feminist Art at Oklahoma City University School of Visual Arts (through October 3rd 2018) and three at the Thomas Gilcrease Institute of American History and Art in Tulsa: Blake Little: Photographs from the Gay Rodeo (through November 25th 2018), T.C. Cannon: At the Edge of America (through October 7th, 2018), and Americans All! (through December 31, st 2019).
Remember This is a group exhibition of video installations that considers trauma, race, and personal/collective/historical memory. The exhibition employs viewing rooms as contemplative zones, reminding viewers that moving image, like memory, can repeat and be informed by new conditions and contexts, changing the ways in which we hold images and feelings within the body, both singularly and collectively. Highlighting work from New York-based artists, local artists, and video art veterans such as Renee Green, curator Sienna Brown utilizes relational and area studies curatorial styles to invite viewers into a varied aesthetic experience containing home movies, found footage, deconstructed documentary, performance for video, and installation.
Take a Seat, a local group curatorial effort and exhibition, fails at its attempt to bridge Oklahoma artists with contemporary feminist discourse, ultimately presenting as a TERF exhibition that neglects complexities within Western Feminism. For example, a circle of chairs arranged by Tulsa-based Holy Mother Collective “symbolize” women archetypes that one sits on, further solidifying problematic relationships between objectification/domesticity of the female subject (not to mention essentialist feminist concepts of what constitutes female-bodied people). The exhibition could have worked with university resources – workshops, talks, screenings, libraries, etc. – in order to develop a more interactive and empowering exhibition.
Back in Tulsa, although the Gilcrease Museum has a vexed relationship with (in)visibility and the American image, three exhibitions attempt a more expansive relationship with Western/American imaginary: Blake Little is a traveling exhibition featuring expressively tender portraiture from gay rodeos, unpacking and upending stereotypes of heterosexual iconography; the T.C. Cannon retrospective traveled from the Peabody Essex Museum with museum didactics sharply relevant in Oklahoma, and in the context of current minoritarian expression; Americans All! is an ongoing group exhibition blending museum archives with local contemporary immigrant artists Mazen Abufadil, Carmen Castorena, Jose Antonio Pantoja Hernandez, and Jave Yoshimoto, with bilingual didactic’s. Americans All! has potential to illustrate tenuous relationships between American Dreams and American Realities; however, contemporary artists’ work is literally encircled by archival artworks of the American West (works that served as propaganda for American expansion and colonization). Spatially, this produces a suffocating sensation, a surveillance into whether or not these emerging artists will fold back into the epic landscapes of an America that never was, and never will be. While the exhibition asks viewers to reconsider American Masters positionality as immigrants of their own time through juxtaposing works with contemporary artists, celebrating a lineage of cultural contributions from immigrant perspectives cannot be fully executed without a more nuanced examination of immigrant subjectivity within the contemporary U.S.
While cultural organizations in Oklahoma City and Tulsa draw lines between local, national, and global inquiry, exhibitions will need to be thoughtful, researched, and considerate of not only what is being shown, but how these discourses are presented in order to elevate and empower the producing, viewing, and visiting communities these exhibitions hope to serve.
Jessica Borusky is the Executive/Artistic Director of Living Arts of Tulsa.