IMITATION OF LIFE: Politics in Art by Elizabeth Downing
(left to right) Alice Leora Briggs, La Anexada. Alice Leora Briggs, Cinta Canela (Cinnamon Tape)
Art has always referenced social issues and by extension, politics. In this cacophonous political atmosphere, how are Oklahoma artists reacting? What, if anything, has changed about their approach to current and future creative work? These questions were posed to four Oklahoma artists with differing backgrounds and working in different media. For Marwin Begaye, Assistant Professor of Printmaking and Painting at OU, it began at the beginning: “growing up as a native person, I was always told that I have to take care of the earth and it will take care of me.” Begaye has explored the issue of environment through printmaking in a series about the pipelines, a series on diabetes, and an embroidered series addressing inattention to the environment. The black and white Tar Sands woodblock print depicts a skeleton atop a horse holding a shield with the power button (as seen on many technology devices) with oil derricks on the horizon and dollar signs suspended in the air. His Grievance piece more overtly references consumerism with plastic Target
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shopping bags in the shape of a bird contrasted against an intricate black and white woodblock printed background. Western Doughty also finds his work rooted childhood experiences in North Tulsa where he was a firsthand witness to the inequities and injustices perpetrated against his friends and neighbors. Where a shoplifting incident at QT led to detention for his African American friends, he was sent home and so he “Feels a duty to push back on behalf of the community I grew up in.” Several of Doughty’s photographic series have stemmed from recurring dreams that reference his childhood including a body of work shot at the Desert Hills motel on Route 66. Finished Business embodies the uncomfortable subject matter sometimes shown in the series and shows the power of Doughty’s visual storytelling. Miss Trailer Park 2014 is part of a project where he lived in a trailer park for a year. This photograph is a study in contrasts, both visually and in a socioeconomic sense, and challenges the viewer to question their assumption.
Alice Leora Briggs, draftsman, installation artists, and printmaker, “has always been interested in the disasters, famines, and wars that decorate human history.” Briggs created an “illuminated manuscript police blotter” in collaboration with Charles Bowden, a Tucson-based writer, which depicted the events surrounding a drug cartel death house in Juarez. Her current book, created in partnership with Juarez-based photographer and journalist Julian Cordona, talks about the new words that have come into use in Juarez in response to the “crescendo of violence.” An example is the Cinta Canela drawing, the literal translation means cinnamon tape, but it’s used to describe the brown plastic packing tape used to restrain or gag. The Encobijados drawing, meaning “the blanketed ones,” describes murder victims whose bodies are rolled in blankets and left in the desert around Juarez. For Ebony Iman Dallas (artist, writer and founder of Afrikanation Artists Organization), the subject of police brutality has been with her since before she was born. That was when
Art Focus Oklahoma Spring 2017