visiting artist project with the
Tulsa girls art school
tulsa, oklahoma March 2016
Teaching 16 girls aged 12-14 years a metal workshop, where techniques included drawing on steel, plasma cutting, welding, finishing, and bending steel sheet. The aim of this course was to not be just a course in metal working, but also a site specific, historical survey of the 1921 Tulsa Massacre, more commonly known as the Tulsa Race Riot. This history has yet to be acknowledged in mass produced “history” textbooks in the U.S. In fact, it was only in 2009, that Oklahoma textbooks started to include, however brief, a mention of the Tulsa Massacre. As a group of artists, we focused on the events that took place, and directed our gaze toward the physical evidence this tragedy left on Tulsa. Two public sites often go completely unnoticed by residents of Tulsa. One is Reconciliation Park, finished in 2009, which includes a 16 ft. bronze tower sculpture by artist Ed Dwight, where we discussed critically the location, accessibility, and language the park used to describe itself, and how the monuments and material were effective or not in describing these events. The other is the several acres surrounding Emerson elementary school, known now as the Greenwood District, but in the community's height of success, was known as Black Wall Street, where many prominent black owned businesses, churches, hospitals, and homes once stood. Still today, a century later, the only evidence we see on those lots, are the concrete steps, driveways, and foundations, that once led up to the front doors. There is grass and many trees, but nothing has been rebuilt. We pondered if even anything should be built on these lands. We discussed the definitions and concepts of home, “emptiness”, and invisible histories. Along our walk, we discovered that even the several girls who had attended Emerson elementary, less than 50 feet from our site, were never made aware of the devastation that took place on that land. We took this heavy history back to the metal shop, where we created 8” x 12” x 8” metal houses. The girls drew and plasma cut linear imagery and words, into the metal walls and roofs of the houses, and then spray painted them. The houses were finished with painted plywood bases, and given an electric candle light that sits inside the house, and shines through the designs cut out of the metal. After we finished them, we took the 16 houses back to the lots at Greenwood, and photographed them on the sites of where those houses once stood. As a visiting artist, who grew up in Tulsa, my hope was to show the girls an important moment in Tulsa history, and leave them with a few tools for thinking critically about the language and landscape they are growing up around, while also illuminating the fact that monuments take many forms, whether they be bronze towers, 97 year old concrete steps, or small metal houses.
Many thanks to all my girls, the staff at TGAS, and especially Matt Moffett, Marjorie Atwood, Emma McMillan, Toni's Flowers and Gifts, and Garden Deva for their support and supplies.
Visit www.tulsagirlsartschool.org to learn more about their amazing program.