ArtNow Learning Gallery
The landscape of Oklahoma, its topography and our shared reality through contemporary art
Crucial to finding the way is this: there is no beginning or end.
You must make your own map.
— Joy Harjo, A Map to the Next World, 2000
Finding a North Star, a beacon of light, a direction to follow ignites purpose for most — discovering an enigma, moment or experience that inspires your movement forward seems a part of human nature. For the guest curator of ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer, now open in the Main Gallery, U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo’s A Map to the Next World provided that fixed, luminescent inspiration.
“This edition of ArtNow was conceived by guest curator Lindsay Aveilhé as a call and response,” says Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs Carina Evangelista. “In music, it is a technique for lyrical, instrumental or rhythmic communication, with one musician offering a phrase and another responding to complete it. Using Joy Harjo’s poem, A Map to the Next World, as the call, Aveilhé asked the 13 artists to create or select work in response to the poem, itself a clarion call to heed ‘the instructions on the language of the land.’”
The 13 Oklahoma-connected artists on view respond to Harjo’s idea of re-imagined futures through interpersonal perspectives. Their works span a diverse group of mediums, including photography, ceramics, video, installation, painting, and performance.
“The exhibition altogether offers text (including Plains Indian sign language); rhythm (both aural and optical beats); imagery (of love and sorrow, of oblivion and hope); and land (the very dirt collected from different parts of Oklahoma, transformed in the pottery, drawing, painting and sculpture),” Evangelista says. “Land is also at the heart of a pointed question writ large, Whose Kicks? Walking through this exhibition, one can’t help but think of Leonardo da Vinci’s famous quote: ‘Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt, and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.’ But viewers are also invited to complete the phrase with their own thoughts and questions as they stand at the intersection of what is felt and seen.”
Standing just outside the Main Gallery, visitors can easily feel the movement, depth and intention through this collection of 39 artworks. Upon entry, a narrative begins to form. Greeted by Molly Kaderka’s marbled, galactic-like vortexes, viewers are invited in by the mixed-media Ferrous Form/Unform, drawing them toward the northeast corner of the gallery. The closer you are, the more you begin to discover.
“Molly Kaderka and Elspeth Schulze explore our relationship with the primordial, providing us portal-like spaces of passage and dreaming. Kite’s video installation highlights Indigenous cosmologies — the interconnectedness of all things— from stones to animals, with birth and death cyclically connected to the stars and the Big Dipper,” curator Aveilhé says.
Schulze’s site-specific installation trails from the gallery ceiling in three stark blue columns of 150 tubes, each tower weighing 250 pounds. The works explore concepts of vertical navigation rather than lateral, and the shadow and light that play off one another created by each structure references the opening to Harjo’s poem: In the last days of the fourth world I wished to make a map for those who would climb through the hole in the sky.
Storytelling anchors The Soul Is a Wanderer, the artists and their works capturing moments of paths traveled, reckoning and renewal, and opening possibilities for new futures to be made.
Traveling further toward the gallery’s western wall, you come face to face with the land upon which we live, eat, travel and nourish, its creations and shifts in time.
“Moira RedCorn explores the creation story and resilience of the Osage people in her landscape painting, replete with a fiery sunset of orange, pink and red familiar to all Oklahomans,” Aveilhé says. “In building her soil studies and collected materials, Ruth Borum-Loveland's practice of wandering contemplates not only prehistory, but also how restricted our movements have become in the modern age of private property and fences.”
Borum-Loveland’s soil studies investigate components gifted from the earth. Her works assimilate into a multilingual language of sorts, framing a corner of the gallery. The library of colors curated from rocks and soils found on meditative walks acts as both a connection to the natural environment and a formal analysis. This accumulation of records of paths traveled is just one avenue of stories that often are left out or behind laid bare in this exhibition.
“Thinking of our cultural landscape first and foremost as an interaction between people and nature, many of the ArtNow artists produced work centered on politics, identity or ecological concerns,” Aveilhé says. “Using an array of earth materials to communicate their concepts, Ashanti Chaplin and Yatika Starr Fields mine the complexities of Oklahoma-specific histories, paying tribute to those whose voices and stories have been marginalized or misrepresented in order to challenge dominant narratives.”
Chaplin’s Earth Elegy towers in the inset space attached to the Main Gallery, the obelisk itself made with clay collected from the 13 historic Black towns in Oklahoma it honors. Working with community members from each destination, Chaplin gathered clay and soil for the sculpture along with sound and images for the 13-minute video that acts as a backdrop to the “nonument.” This intimate space serves as a memorial to the towns geographically dispersed, but bound by shared history and survival.
The 39 works in the exhibition carry viewers from past to present, from history to reality, into pockets of unrecognized potential, within ourselves and the world around us. This theme can easily be pinpointed through the multitude of ceramic works positioned throughout the exhibition from artists Isaac Diaz to Yusuf Etudaiye, as well as Robert Petersen’s breathtaking larger-than-life painting of Black love.
“Isaac Diaz, Yusuf Etudaiye and Robert Peterson explore historical representation and symbolism to re-envision identity and construct new centers of belonging and being,” Aveilhé says. “Joseph Rushmore and Nathan Young both grapple with the zeitgeist of the current moment through a lens of the past, urging us to think more deeply about the things we think we understand. Joy Harjo reads A Map to the Next World on her land in Sterlin Harjo’s video that visitors encounter upon entry and upon exit, acting as both opening verse and a coda in the call to be mindful of the paths we choose to chart.”
The cross-generational artists forge and follow their own route, and invite you to do the same, with inspiration from the poem that started it all:
We were never perfect.
Yet, the journey we make together is perfect on this earth who was once a star and made the same mistakes as humans.
ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer is on view through Jan. 15, 2024. This is the second iteration of the biennial ArtNow exhibition in our new home, but the exhibition predates our move to Broadway, spanning our time at the Fairgrounds. We are looking forward to this year’s version and how our audience will interact with the selection of contemporary art.
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