Five Oklahoma-based artists explore migration, belonging and place in Destination Oklahoma
We’ve all heard the infamous Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, “It’s not the destination; it’s the journey.” But what if it was both, journey and destination? Can we imagine an opportunity in which both exist at the same time? Destination Oklahoma can.
“There are a myriad of experiences and stories held on this land,” says writer, Tulsa Artist Fellow and co-curator Liz Blood. “This show offers a few windows into some of them.”
Featuring five Oklahoma-based artists and nearly a dozen of their works, Destination Oklahoma opens in the Mary LeFlore Oklahoma Gallery on July 14. The exhibition aims to illuminate the distinct cultural backgrounds coexisting across our country and state. Including ceramics, mixed media, paintings, photographs, prints and video, the exhibition engages with questions of cultural hybridity and migration.
“We narrowed our selection of artists to those whose art practice intersects strongly with the theme of the exhibition, reflecting on the patterns of migration that have long shaped life in the state,” says Oklahoma Contemporary’s Associate Curator Pablo Barrera.
Skip Hill’s works incorporate details sourced form art historical canon, tattoo culture, Asian calligraphy, West African sculpture and more. His paintings in Destination Oklahoma reimagine symbolic imagery in relation to the Dust Bowl era. America Meredith’s works approach social and environmental issues, playfully mixing pop culture references with historical illustration of Indigenous subjects.
“Destination Oklahoma is a chance to open the conversation about migration and the complicated definition of what diversity is in Oklahoma,” says artist Đan Lynh Phạm. “My work acts as a visual diary, and I chose pieces that express what home means to me and the complicated sentiments of growing up in an immigrant family as one of few POC in a community dominated by Western culture.”
Through illustrations and contemporary design aesthetic, Phạm’s pieces blend graphic language with Vietnamese folk art traditions, evoking thoughts of connection and disconnection experienced by immigrants of the Vietnamese diaspora in Oklahoma.
“Everyone is invited to consider both the ways migration has shaped the place in which we live as well as their own personal relationship to human movement,” Blood says. “Migration touches us all, whether we have recently moved here, have new-to-us neighbors or have migration in our near or distant past. It touches us all differently.”
Ghazal Ghazi’s works touch on Eurocentric ideologies, "interrogating the narratives of collective memory that underlie systemic power structures."
“For me, there is a conscious decision to not center the white gaze,” Ghazi says. “For some viewers of the work, it may be the first time in their life that they inhabit a space where they are no longer part of the linguistic hegemony. It may be the first time they feel what it's like to be the linguistic ‘Other.’”
Incorporating Persian miniature style with large-scale murals and paintings, Ghazi's select works investigate the limitations of what can be known about a culture through calligraphic Farsi and undefined, seemingly evaporating faces.
Through images exploring intergenerational trauma and histories, September Dawn Bottoms utilizes archival family photos and portraits taken during interviews, producing a collaborative approach toward understanding the relationship between artist and subject.
While the exhibition allows the artists to experience and reflect on how place and home are formed through their works and how interconnection creates culture, it simultaneously presents an opportunity for visitors from all walks of life to see, feel and potentially reimagine what it means to be an Oklahoman.
“As Oklahoma City welcomes refugees from Afghanistan, approaches the one-year anniversary of the First Americans Museum, revitalizes the Clara Luper Civil Rights Center, recognizes the upcoming 50th anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords that directly led to the creation of our cherished Asian District and now sees a record increase of newcomers from other states, this exhibition is a timely opportunity to reflect on how the region’s long-standing patterns of human migration continue to shape our artistic landscape,” Barrera says.
Join us for an opening reception July 14, followed by an informal artist talk with the artists of Destination Oklahoma and co-curator Liz Blood. Moderated by Barrera, audience participation is encouraged as we converse and explore cultural hybridity and other exhibition themes.
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