We Believed in the Sun
May 6 – August 9, 2021
Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery
Honoring the significant legacies of the Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma City, We Believed in the Sun pairs Ron Tarver, a nationally recognized artist born in Oklahoma, with Ebony Iman Dallas, an emerging Oklahoma artist. The exhibition is organized in consultation with Advisory Council members from the Clara Luper Center for Civil Rights and the Oklahoma Historical Society. We Believed in the Sun will illuminate first-person accounts of the Civil Rights Movement in Oklahoma from the 1950s and 1960s that may be overlooked aspects of the larger history of Civil Rights and that resonate with present-day African-American communities in Oklahoma.
We Believed in the Sun explores both public and private perspectives on Black Oklahomans’ past and present struggle for Civil Rights and equal protection under the law. The exhibition title comes from a quote by Civil Rights icon Clara Luper:
“I came from a family of believers. We believed in the sun when it didn't shine. We believed in the rain when it wasn't raining. My parents taught me to believe in a God I couldn't see."
We Believed in the Sun draws on Tarver’s and Dallas’s respective deep familial roots in the state, which have provided them with the critical intimacy to artistically explore these important themes within an Oklahoma context. Dallas articulates personal histories through bold, colorful, multimedia works, while Tarver produces layered compositions with photographs that incorporate images taken by his father from the 1940s to the 1950s in Fort Gibson, Okla. Together, these works consider family and community as sources of hope and strength, as well as sites of refuge, mourning, and possibility.
2021 marks the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. We Believed in the Sun complements the monumental acknowledgment of commemoration activities across the state by extending the conversation and recognizing the Civil Rights Movements rooted in Oklahoma as important strands in the historical lineage of racial justice from one generation to the next. We Believed in the Sun combines the artistic sensibilities of Dallas and Tarver with the input from community leaders who continue to cultivate public engagement with the civil rights legacies of the state and serve as custodians of the archival materials and oral histories around these legacies.
We Believed in the Sun underscores our commitment to activating the Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery by providing a platform for the work of Oklahoma-connected artists in powerful companion shows to exhibitions in the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery. The timeline of significant Civil Rights Movements in Oklahoma from the 1940s to the 1960s coincides with the period of Ruscha's upbringing in Oklahoma City, explored in Ed Ruscha: OKLA. Tarver’s and Dallas’s works will also be in conversation with Crystal Z Campbell’s artist-in-residence installation, Flight, a multimedia presentation that explores the physical, architectural and cultural residues of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. We Believed in the Sun renders visible the historical arc of the complex lived experiences of Black Oklahomans.
We Believed in the Sun is co-curated by Christina Beatty, recently Oklahoma Contemporary’s manager of public programs and community engagement and currently working for the historic Freedom Center, and Pablo Barrera, associate curator.
Images: Ron Tarver, Homesteaders, 2020. From the series: An Overdue Conversation with My Father, 2014-ongoing. Pigment ink print mounted on eight-ply archival mat board in a vintage frame. 29 x 53 in. © Ron Tarver. Photo courtesy the artist. Ebony Iman Dallas, London. Hargeisa. Cairo. Redefining Time, 2018. Acrylic, gold leaf, and textiles on canvas. 16 x 20 in. © Ebony Iman Dallas. Photo courtesy the artist. Ebony Iman Dallas, I Define Me, 2015. Acrylic on collaged newspaper clippings on canvas. 30 x 24 in. © Ebony Iman Dallas. Photo courtesy the artist. Ron Tarver, Old Calvary Church, 2003. Toned gelatin silver print. 30 x 24 in. Collection of the Oklahoma History Center, commissioned in 2003 by Anita Arnold for Deep Deuce & Beyond. © Ron Tarver. Photo courtesy the artist.