Oklahoma Contemporary
A group of people stand with Sterlin Harjo, who is holding the ArtNow 2023 Focus Award

New Light

Jan. 08, 2024

ArtNow Focus Awards: A Contribution to the Cultural Landscape

Storytelling elevating Indigeneity celebrated

An art gallery view shows a title wall to the left with ARTNOW in large text, followed by smaller text below. To the right are works of art: A large wall installation, a vibrant mural and a floor installation.

Installation view of ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer

The biennial exhibition ArtNow aims to capture a current snapshot of contemporary artists working in and in connection with the state of Oklahoma. As a way to further uphold these makers and creators evolving the cultural landscape, for the 2021 iteration the first ever ArtNow Focus Awards were created. This year’s exhibition award celebrates Indigenous filmmaker and artist Sterlin Harjo (Seminole and Muscogee (Creek)), following the late Bert Seaborn in 2021.

“We are overjoyed to be giving the ArtNow 2023 Focus Award to Sterlin Harjo for his commitment and contribution to the arts in Oklahoma and beyond,” says Guest Curator Lindsay Aveilhé. “As a film director, screenwriter, showrunner and artist, Harjo has pushed the boundaries of representational storytelling, moving the dial for generations of artists to come.”

Born in Holdenville, Oklahoma, now based in Tulsa, Harjo personifies the meaning and importance of local artists. While growing up, the artist couldn’t envision a creative future, a future in film, a future in directing, and it wasn’t until college that Harjo realized the possibilities of becoming a filmmaker. Harjo knew there was a gap to fill in the lens of Hollywood storytelling, specifically accurate Indigenous representation, and by homing in on his Native community, their stories, voices and experiences, the filmmaker ushered in narratives by the Indigenous community for the Indigenous community, with a cultural principal at the center: love.

“Oklahoma is lucky to have such a creative force among us,” says Aveilhé. “I continue to be in anticipation for what will come next from the creative polymath, Sterlin Harjo.”

A black-and-white photo shows four people hugging around one person who stands in front of them. They are looking in a mirror that is lined with large bulbs with their heads bent like saying a prayer

The 1491s backstage

Among Harjo's impressive list of film accomplishments, such as the award-winning series Reservation Dogs (2021-23), are Oklahoma-centered filmographies, including the documentary Love and Fury (2020), Four Sheets to the Wind (2007), Cepanvkuce Tutcenen (Three Little Boys) (2009), Barking Water (2009), This May Be the Last Time (2014) and Mekko (2015). The filmmaker is also a founding member of the Native sketch comedy troupe The 1491s, “a gaggle of Indians chock full of cynicism and splashed with a good dose of Indigenous satire,” per the artist’s website.

Harjo’s video on view in ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer is installed on the second floor where it is both the first work visitors encounter upon entering and the last upon exiting the Eleanor Kirkpatrick Main Gallery, acting as both a welcome and farewell to all. In his A Map to the Next World, 2019-2022 U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo wanders among the land on her residence in Oklahoma as the poet reads her exhibition-inspiring poem of the same title.

A woman in black walks down a dirt path away from the camera. "ArtNow 2023 Focus Awards" is written in the lower right corner.

ArtNow 2023 Focus Awards

“The idea was to kind of do a lyrical video portrait of Joy at her home on her land in Tulsa," says Harjo. "We just walked around and hung out for the day. It was just a way to see things through her eyes, and the voice over was always going to be the poem that exhibition was based around.”

“Joy is such an integral part of our Native artist community in Oklahoma — and not just Native art but in general. But as a Native artist, she’s one of those pioneers that we all watched and looked to while growing up.”

Through audio and visual, the poet and filmmaker's ArtNow contribution touches on long-standing cultural values.

A projected image transitioning between a smiling woman in a black shirt and sunglasses and a close up image of plants

Sterlin Harjo's A Map to the Next World (2023)

“With ArtNow being a biennial survey of the creative output in Oklahoma, Sterlin’s video created specifically for ArtNow captures another unstinting voice from Oklahoma, poet Joy Harjo, with whom he shares Muscogee tribal affiliation,” says Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs Carina Evangelista. “Their artistic perspectives are shaped by lifelong reckoning with land drenched in history that warrants interrogating. Sterlin Harjo ignited the art of flickering frames of images on a screen, disrupting its discipline long-ruled by Hollywood caricatures and commercialism, using an Indigenous lens and enjoining Indigenous voices to tell stories that are fiercely Native and fiercely contemporary.”

Join us for the ArtNow 2023 Focus Awards, Jan. 11, as we celebrate Harjo and his groundbreaking work through film that uplifts and challenges notions of what it means to be Native. The evening will begin at 6 p.m. with a reception including light bites and a cash bar, followed by an Artist Talk with Harjo and Aveilhé at 6:30 p.m. All are welcome and encouraged to attend – tickets can be found for members and non-members here.

The ArtNow 2023 Focus Awards are sponsored by the Oklahoma City Film & Creative Industries Office and Oklahoma Film + Music Office, with additional support from Kirkpatrick Family Fund, Allied Arts, Oklahoma Arts Council, National Endowment for the Arts, Adventure Road and ArtDesk.


Artist Connie Seabourn, Curator of Public Programs and Performance Marie Casimir, Director of Operations Laura Rice, Senior Director of Curatorial Affairs Carina Evangelista, ArtNow 2023 Focus Awardee Sterlin Harjo and Guest Curator Lindsay Aveilhé. Photo by Rudolph Tolar.

Installation view of ArtNow: The Soul Is a Wanderer, including Molly Kaderka's Ferrous Form/Unform (2023) and Robert Peterson's Imperfectly perfect, together (2023). Photo: Ann Sherman.

Artist Sterlin Harjo (left) at ArtNow opening celebrations. Photo: Photoville.

Harjo (center) at ArtNow opening celebrations. Photo: Photoville.

Harjo (center) and artist Nathan Young (left) at ArtNow opening celebrations. Photo: Photoville.

The 1491s backstage in Tulsa, OK, at The Gilcrease Museum. Photo: Shane Brown.

Video still of Harjo's A Map to the Next World (2023). Photo: Ann Sherman.

Installation view of Harjo's A Map to the Next World (2023). Photo: Ann Sherman.

Tags tags
ArtNow 2023 ArtNow Focus Awards Sterlin Harjo Indigenous artists indigenous film community Joy Harjo

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