Oklahoma Contemporary
Tavares Strachan, I Belong Here
A wall-mounted sculpture constructed of white fluorescent lights against a black wall that reads “I belong here”

New Light

April 06, 2020

A Place to Belong

Oklahoma Contemporary seeks submissions for National Poetry Month project
An adult male sits facing forward, legs crossed, hands folded on stool
Quraysh Ali Lansana, guest curator for Oklahoma Contemporary's National Poetry Month project

Tavares Strachan's I Belong Here has a lot to say. The deceptively simple phrase, rendered in brilliant neon and elegant text design, is part of a series by the Bahamas-born artist who uses light and language to launch meaningful conversations about institutions and identity. You'll encounter the arresting work in our now-delayed Bright Golden Haze, illuminating yet another layer of the exhibition's bold exploration of light, place and space.

As a Black immigrant artist working within historically white fine art institutions around the world, Strachan knows a thing or two about belonging in spaces that don't always seem to be made with all in mind. But the neon sentiment has a message for everyone, from Nassau to Norman. "As humans, we all struggle with how we fit in and belong," Strachan writes in his artist statement. "Who gets to determine who belongs where? And where is here? And why does it matter?”

Oklahoma Contemporary is turning to Strachan's trailblazing work for a special National Poetry Month project, exploring the sometimes complicated concept of belonging. To this end, we're partnering with renowned Oklahoma poet Quraysh Ali Lansana to create a crowdsourced poem responding to Strachan's I Belong Here.

What does belonging mean to you? How is it challenged or made deeper by our personal histories and identities? What does it mean to belong to a place, or for a place to belong to you?

These are questions we're asking you to explore in our new community poetry project. Send us your response in a few lines of poetry (details below), and Lansana will select submissions to shape into one cohesive poem. The finished work will debut at the end of April with a special virtual reading by Lansana, and we'll be sharing insights into his practice — as well as more celebrations of poetry — throughout the month.

Dark blue-ish streaks on a beige background of a book cover reading "the skin of dreams: new and collected poems" and "Quraysh Ali Lansana"
The Skin of Dreams: New and Collected Poems, 1995-2019 by Quraysh Ali Lansana. The Calliope Group, LLC.

Over the last three decades, Lansana has leveraged poetry to pose thoughtful and bruising questions about place and belonging. In his latest collection, The Skin of Dreams (2019), the Enid-born writer, educator and Tulsa Artist Fellow confronts what he calls "the mystery of re-defining home, and what you know of home — in terms of geography, and personal geography — in terms of land, and place. It’s me trying to figure out what I’m standing on."

That sentiment carries a different weight during this year's National Poetry Month, with many of us thinking deeply about how we belong to our communities in a moment of crisis. As we isolate ourselves away from our neighbors and loved ones to curb the threat of COVID-19, now seems an especially poignant time to stop and consider how we relate to each other and the environments we share.

This poetry prompt also speaks to our mission at Oklahoma Contemporary. With free exhibitions and public programming, we aim to break down the barriers that can exist between arts organizations and the communities they serve. Our goal is to make world-class arts experiences accessible to everyone. We are your arts center. You belong here.

So, spend some time meditating on what belonging means to you. Then write a couple lines of poetry about it — no more than 35 words, please. Submit them to us with your name and location by April 24, using the email below or by commenting on a post about the project on any of our social media platforms, and you might hear your own words read by Lansana at the end of the month.

What are you standing on? Tell us at info@okcontemp.org.

Tavares Strachan. I Belong Here (White), 2012. Blocked-out neon and glass. 24 x 48 in. Courtesy Blanton Museum of Art, The University of Texas at Austin, Gift of Anthony Meier in honor of Jeanne and Michael Klein, 2014. Photo by Alex Marks.

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National Poetry Month poetry Quraysh Ali Lansana Oklahoma Contemporary

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