Oklahoma Contemporary
Ebony Iman Dallas
A large black-and-white photo of a man with dark skin sitting on a couch is adhered to a wall, with framed paintings mounted on top of it

New Light

May 06, 2021

'We Believed in the Sun When It Didn't Shine'

Exhibition opening today celebrates ongoing impact of Civil Rights movement in OKC
Tarver The Gathering
Ron Tarver, The Gathering

“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." - Clara Luper, mother, educator and civil rights leader

We Believed in the Sun, which opens today in Oklahoma Contemporary's Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery, celebrates the enduring legacy of the Civil Rights movement in Oklahoma City. The title is from Clara Luper’s testament of faith in the sun even “when it didn’t shine.” The exhibition pairs nationally recognized Oklahoma-born artist and 2021 Guggenheim Fellow Ron Tarver, with local artist Ebony Iman Dallas, whose works reflect their deep familial roots in Oklahoma.

Dallas articulates personal and shared histories through bold, colorful, multimedia pieces, while Tarver creates layered compositions that incorporate images taken by his father in Jim Crow-era Fort Gibson, Okla. With critical and artistic sensitivity, Tarver and Dallas reflect on historical themes that allow viewers to trace the narrative arc of Black experience shared by the artists’ subjects in the timeline of the Civil Rights movements. This exhibition was 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 illuminates overlooked aspects of the larger history of Black Oklahomans that resonate with present-day African-American communities in the state.

“2021 is such a banner year for thinking about what it means to be Black in Oklahoma. The parallels between the centennial commemoration of the Tulsa Race Massacre and last year's civil and social unrest about how Black lives are still being taken too often shed a light on the work that remains regarding basic human and civil rights,” said co-curator Christina Beatty, project coordinator for the historic Freedom Center, who until recently served as manager of public programs and community engagement for Oklahoma Contemporary.

“We began work on this exhibition well before the protests started last spring, but it certainly gave this effort new dimensions of meaning. Along with the personal stories of each artist, both Ron and Ebony's work explores the lived experience and human cost of inequity, but also highlights a shared sense of pride and intergenerational drive to strive for better,” Beatty said.

Beatty co-curated the exhibition with Pablo Barrera, Oklahoma Contemporary’s associate curator.

It’s meaningful that We Believed in the Sun is installed in Oklahoma Contemporary’s Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery. The space is designed to provide a platform for the work of Oklahoma-connected artists in powerful companion shows to exhibitions in the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery.

We Believed in the Sun presents Oklahoma-specific stories, subjects and contexts that resonate with Civil Rights themes,” Barrera said. “Narratives on Civil Rights tend to focus only on triumph and tragedy, limiting African American identity to either ‘hero’ or ‘victim.’ Contemporary art can provide a path to explore complex realities surrounding Civil Rights movements.”

Tarver’s and Dallas’ works will also be in conversation with Crystal Z Campbell’s artist-in-residence installation, which opens May 27. Flight is a multimedia presentation that explores the physical, architectural and cultural residues of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre. Flight will be on view until Aug. 31. We Believed in the Sun runs May 6-Aug. 9.

Reserve your free tickets to see We Believed in the Sun, along with Ed Ruscha: OKLA (installed in the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery) here.
Ebony Iman Dallas arranged Kernel of Eternity (triptych, 201, acrylic and gold leaf on canvas) and A Dream Fulfilled (2012, acrylic on canvas) over a wall-sized reproduction of a photo of her father. Courtesy the artist. © Ebony Iman Dallas. 

Ron Tarver, The Gathering, 2021. From the series: An Overdue Conversation with My Father. Pigment ink print, mounted on 8-ply archival mat board in a vintage frame. Courtesy the artist. © Ron Tarver. Photo courtesy the artist.

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