Do these words mean anything to you?
If you're an American, they should. We live in a nation that spoon-feeds its citizens their realities through control, fear tactics and television. Our ideas about love, money, class, etc. are influenced by carefully scripted and fabricated television shows that create and perpetuate classic American myth and characters.
This may sound a bit cynical, but after having taking African-American studies classes in college, I feel my eyes are opened to the sometimes deep, sometimes sickeningly blatant messages that are being subliminally communicated throughout the media.
Cosmetic ads sell airbrushed, digitally enhanced glamazons who set a standard of beauty based on cheap illusions. Car and truck commercials shout, "Bigger is Better!" while Visa plans to obliterate paying with dollars and coins.
Stick with me. This all has a point.
I'm not saying that make-up, cars and debit cards are evil. It's just that the reality crafted by images we see through the media is increasingly difficult to keep up with. For most, I would say, it is impossible.
And what about the "most?"
Those who don't identify, whether by choice or not, with the mainstream American reality?
The latest exhibit at Living ArtSpace reveals an alternative reality.
"Current Realities: A Dialogue with the People" opened last Thursday night at Living Arts of Tulsa, 308 S. Kenosha Ave. This rather large and diverse showing displays the work of more than 60 Native American artists. All are a part of OklaDADA, a collective of artists seeking to promote indigenous perspectives and to create opportunities that give voice to Indian cultural identities.
"OklaDADA is a grassroots, informal, bunch of artists coming together to network and support each other. Most of us are Native or supporters," said Heather Ahtone, member of OklaDADA.
"We love Oklahoma and we want to be able to live and work here as artists, close to our communities. But it's unfortunate, because in order to stay here, you are limited from other financial potential that would come from working and living in larger cities with established art markets.
"We also want to show that we have strength of voice as artists, and we can help our community feel empowered here. All of this is possible through the arts," she continued.
Ahtone said that was the artists' motivation for coalescing into OklaDADA. They have been together for more than two years, and "Current Realities" is their first collective effort.
The show is a collection of diverse media. Paintings, digital prints, jewelry, sculpture and video are featured. The show as a whole is quite colorful, and where the media is varied, so too are the points of view represented.
Marwin Begaye, whom I first met during my studies at OU, presents a mixed media print entitled "Blow Up the Outside World" that started out as a Dave Matthews poster he found in California. The hippie green of the DMB poster has been printed over by woodcut. The black woodcut forms an eyeless Native American, over which has been screen-printed red, fancifully gothic lettering.
The text lists facts concerning the rate of occurrence of diabetes amongst Native Americans.
"1 in 4 American Indian adolescents has diabetes."
"Diabetes mortality is approximately 4.3 times higher in the American Indian/Alaskan Native than in the US population."
Marwin's work exposes the true nature of the food we eat, the pills we take and the diseases that affect us in this country. As a Native American artist, he sticks with the issues that affect him and his family.
Marwin explained, "This piece comes from a body of work that started out as a wake-up call, to watch what we eat. It started from me being diagnosed with a sugar cane allergy. My son has it as well. It's one of those things that makes you want to ask questions.
"We are becoming a society that doesn't think anymore. We are told what to think and what to do, and my work is a response to that. Here are the facts."
Zachery Presely presents "Finding Me Another Story," two giclee prints that depict Native Americans in black and white, with colored dots printed over the main image.
His story is different, but presents another perspective.
Presely, an artist who was raised culturally as Caucasian, had a Chickasaw grandmother whom he remembers as a phenomenal storyteller and preserver of her native language.
"I often think of the dual culture that lives within me. How do I forgive a part of my culture for destroying part of the other?" he asked.
That's a toughie, but creating something new is part of dealing with these unresolved questions.
"Indian Car" by Shan Goshorn is a digital print that shows four Native American men through the rear window of an SUV. All the men turn to face the camera. They are painted a vibrant shade of red all over their bodies. This is accented with decorative black paint on the face, and Native dress.
The image is haunting.
Goshorn said about the show, "This is not a reaction to the Centennial. These are all new works that give another point of view regarding the last 100 years of statehood. Many issues are covered. You'll see the land run, alcoholism, Indian identity, repatriation and sovereignty issues. It's all covered and it's an incredible show."
Agreed. There is a professional quality to the work. The exhibit shows a collection of different viewpoints, yet the pieces compliment each other successfully.
Richard Ray Whitman, the co-curator of the show reiterates Goshorn's statement.
"We are not in a reactionary mode to the Centennial. The state celebrated the past 100 years according to how they understand it and we feel it is essential that our voices are also clearly heard. Exploring Native issues in Oklahoma history can be uncomfortable. It includes theft of land and resources from Indian people after Statehood, as well as government policies of forced assimilation and acculturation over the past century that are still affecting Indian people here today," Whitman said.
Whitman's piece for "Current Realities" is titled "Dirt Poor, Oil Rich, Art-i-facts." It is a monumental, installed sculpture that features a red oil drill that is planted into the ground. Red dirt, animal bones and what appears to be figurative forms are scattered around the base of the drill.
When asked about the content of the piece, Whitman responded sagaciously, "All the facts are here. We live in what was once known as the oil capital of the world. My piece deals with a lot of things, but it is about the Earth. We need to alter our lifestyles. We need to look to the future, because the Earth is not a thing. It is alive. It supports us and nurtures us."
"This show is a great example of people who have really thought about current issues, which to me is another way to say reality. The artists express their experience poignantly. It is a powerful, meaning show," said Living Arts director Steve Liggett.
"Current Realities: A Dialogue with the People" is on display through February 28 at Living Arts. For more information, please visit www.livingarts.org.
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