Oklahoma Contemporary
Patterns of Knowing
A black and white logo spells out Patterns of Knowing. The letters in 'Patterns' are made of triangles, creating abstract shapes for each letter. On top is black letters against a white background. Below is the inverse.

New Light

May 15, 2023

Celebrating Indigenous Art: A Constant Evolution of Pattern

Three artists, nearly 20 works and an embodiment of ideas

Colorful wallpaper sprawls across a white wall. Looking at an angle, we can see bright pink, red and orange patterns of what looks like a butterfly/flower creature, replicated over and over again.
Installation view of Jordan Ann Craig's Wallpaper II: Eat Flowers for Powers (detail) (2023)

How does knowledge travel from generation to generation? For most communities, this transfer of intergenerational knowledge comes in multiple forms, including written text, oral histories and art. Patterns of Knowing, opening May 18 in the Mary LeFlore Clements Oklahoma Gallery, explores this movement of history, specifically patterns sourced from Indigenous cultures that embody lineages of ideas and how they evolve over time.

“Artists Jordan Ann Craig (Northern Cheyenne Tribe), Benjamin Harjo Jr. (Absentee Shawnee Tribe of Oklahoma/Seminole) and Jeri Redcorn (Caddo Nation of Oklahoma/Citizen Potawatami) create works using shapes, colors and symbols that are part of a living culture,” says Associate Curator Pablo Barrera. “By anchoring their inventive compositions to the heritage of their respective communities, the artists simultaneously preserve Indigenous visual language and contribute toward its evolution as a contemporary art form.”

A colorful painting sits against a white background. The bottom is a sea of white and blue checkboard outlined in red. An abstract bundle stands in the middle, adorned in yellow dots, dark and light greens, teals, reds and oranges with arrows.
Benjamin Harjo Jr.'s Medicine Bundle (2015)

The three featured artists’ approach to patterns is showcased through nearly 20 artworks: ceramics, paintings, prints and drawings. Craig creates large-scale works that draw upon the color and rhythm of Indigenous patch- and beadwork. By painting symmetrical, repeated blocks of color in various hues, Craig typifies North America’s long-standing relationship with abstract art while simultaneously articulating time, space and intimate experiences. Also, visitors will find something new in the third floor gallery: a corner covered in Craig-designed wallpaper, inspired by her artist book, also on view.

The internationally known Harjo Jr. — who has been named a Red Earth Festival Honored One and won a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native American Art Studies Association — is known for rich and vibrant prints and paintings that tend to feature figures in motion, contrasted against a background of vivid symbols. A member of Absentee Shawnee and Seminole Tribes, Harjo Jr. experiments with traditional tribal patterns to generate perspective depth within his works. Through his use of triangles, squares and stripes, Harjo Jr. celebrates the limitless boundaries of Indigenous pictorial vocabularies, another avenue for language.

A person is painting on a large black sqaure painted on a white wall. The person has a pink top and black leggings on with dark hair pulled back. They are painting a swirling star-like pattern in deep reds and oranges.
Artist Kristin Gentry at work on Jeri Redcorn's mural

Redcorn is a leader in the revitalization of Caddoan pottery, carrying this traditional practice into the contemporary art world. Embracing the mathematical and philosophical principles behind this tribal style, the 83-year-old artist’s geometric patterns weave and intersect to form scrollwork meandering across the surface of vessels. Redcorn’s work evokes the journey that heritage Caddo designs have traveled between communities, contemplating their personal and collective significance. In addition to two ceramic works, Redcorn collaborated with local artist Kristin Gentry (Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma) to translate her pottery design into a large-scale mural, a reimagining of Ayo Wahdut Kuku (Sky Earth Water), featured at the First Americans Museum. The color was created by incorporating dirt from grounds in Oklahoma and Texas where Caddo nations have ancestral territory and sourced clay. Redcorn’s works are in national collections, including the White House (First Lady Michelle Obama acquired Intertwining Scrolls).

A black and white checkboard is painted on a white background. It is bordered on the side with blue, orange and tan abstract patterns.
Jordan Ann Craig's Playing Both Sides (2022)

“The artists’ exceptional works help to transform conventional narratives of American art and culture and encourage more inclusion and celebration of creative expressions from communities whose voices and artistic practices have long been marginalized and ignored,” Barrera says. “Patterns of Knowing invites viewers to learn more about the lineage of artistic practices tapped by Craig, Harjo, and Redcorn, and the ways they are contributing toward the constant evolution of Indigenous patterns and artistic principles.”

An opening reception will be held May 18 from 5-7 p.m. with light bites and a cash bar. Craig and Redcorn will join Barrera for an artist talk at 6 p.m., during which the artists will discuss the relationship between pattern and information in their works. All are encouraged to attend this free event and celebration of Indigenous art.


Installation view of Jordan Ann Craig's Wallpaper II: Eat Flowers for Powers (detail) (2023).

Benjamin Harjo Jr.'s Medicine Bundle (2015). Gouache on paper. Collection of Valerie and Joe Couch. Image courtesy the artist.

Artist Kristin Gentry working on Jeri Redcorn's Ayo Wahdut Kuku Bit (Sky Earth Water II) (2023).

Jordan Ann Craig's Playing Both Sides (2022). Acrylic on canvas. Tia Collection, Santa Fe, N.M. Image courtesy the artist.

Tags tags
indigenous opening artist talk Patterns of Knowing Indigenous artists community storytelling ceramics painting prints mural

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