January 11, 2017

final days of ‘syncretic’

Final thoughts from Dr. Louise Siddons, curator of Syncretic: Tulsa Artist Fellowship. 

Happy new year! “Syncretic” is in its last two weeks — the show closes on January 22! — and we have some exciting programming coming up! This Thursday, January 12, artists in the show will be in the gallery for a panel discussion. We’ll kick off with some questions from me, but most of the evening will be devoted to questions from the audience. So… what do you want to know? Crystal Z Campbell, Rena Detrixhe, Eric Sall, Chris Ramsay, and Gary Kachadourian will be on deck from 6-7:30 PM.

We’ve had Thursday’s panel discussion on the books from the beginning, which is usually how exhibition planning goes. But sometimes the unexpected crops up over the course of an exhibition. One of the most incredible things about working with the Tulsa Artist Fellowship has been their eagerness to be responsive: whether it’s the artists’ involvement with the community, the community’s support for Fellowship artist Clarissa Rizal and her family, or Julia White and the rest of the Fellowship administration’s lightning-fast turnaround time on almost any request, I’ve been impressed by the flexibility and imagination in evidence—and I’ve appreciated the opportunity to be a part of it.

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Tulsa Artist Fellowship artists and curator, Louise Siddons on the opening night, photo by Steven Michaels Photography

I’ve also appreciated the support that 108 Contemporary, “Syncretic,” and TAF have received from the Tulsa community. In the week running up to the opening, local, regional and national media covered the exhibition and the Fellowship. Their interest was — and is — a reflection of local audiences’ curiosity about contemporary art, and their enthusiasm to learn more about it. That enthusiasm was evident on the opening night, when more than 2000 people came through the gallery, and in the attendance at my curator’s walkthrough that weekend.

When we reviewed all the coverage, however, something stood out: across the board, mention of the political content of the exhibition had been downplayed and/or omitted. This wasn’t intentional censorship—with so many different people, media, editing processes, and interviewees involved, that wouldn’t have been possible. But it did reflect a widespread social tendency, an anxiety about provoking controversy, that had the unfortunate side effect of erasing the artists’ work. It was, moreover, a phenomenon that didn’t accurately reflect the Tulsa community’s evident desire to have the conversations that the work in “Syncretic” jumpstarts.

Nick Vaughan and Jake Margolin sent me an email. “We want to add something to the show,” they said, soliciting my thoughts. I was all for it, and I asked them how we might do something that opened up conversation—with visitors and with the existing installation. They came up with an elegantly confrontational piece: the simple statement, “We refuse to be erased,” in black vinyl letters, installed directly onto the wall of the gallery. Its form—black text on the white gallery wall—echoed the work by Nick and Jake already installed, as did its content (their ongoing project, excerpts of which are in “Syncretic,” is to re-introduce and celebrate moments in queer history from each of the United States in large-scale installations).

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Installation shot of We Refuse to Be Erased, photo credit Louise Siddons

We debated where and how to install it, finally deciding on the corner between their work and that of Akiko Jackson. Akiko’s work is monumental and intimate, and from a curatorial perspective, I thought that her juxtaposition of the personal and the abstract was a powerful complement to the phrasing of “We refuse to be erased,” with its first-person, collective grammar.

Nick and Jake didn’t stop there, though — and true to my experience with this group, the rest of the Fellowship came together to create a program that would invite precisely the conversation that had been lost. Our final event for “Syncretic” will be a forum entitled “On the Political,” in which seven of the twelve artists featured in the exhibition (Alice Leora Briggs, Nathan Young, Molly Dilworth, Crystal Z Campbell, Rena Detrixhe, Nick Vaughan, and Jake Margolin) will discuss how and why they introduce overtly political content into their work—and invite your thoughts on the role of art in contemporary culture and society. “On the Political” will be Saturday, January 21, from 1:30-3:00 at 108 Contemporary.

I hope I’ll see you there!


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