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Interviews and video: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center hosts last exhibit at State Fair Park with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s 'Oklahoma Is Black'

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Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an artist who was born and raised in Oklahoma City but is now based in Brooklyn, New York, and Steve Boyd, exhibitions manager at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, look over artwork on Feb. 19 as they install Fazlalizadeh's exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an artist who was born and raised in Oklahoma City but is now based in Brooklyn, New York, and Steve Boyd, exhibitions manager at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, look over artwork on Feb. 19 as they install Fazlalizadeh's exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

An abbreviated version of this story appears in Friday's Weekend Life section in The Oklahoman. 

End of an era: With Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s ‘Oklahoma Is Black,’ Oklahoma Contemporary is hosting its last State Fair Park exhibit and readying to move downtown

Once Tatyana Fazlalizadeh took her art outside, she quickly learned the importance of scale.

“When I started working in public art and murals, I started to see just how the scale of something really has an impact on the work and how people experience it. So, for this show, I wanted to bring that scale indoors and have people experience it at this really large size. I think having these portraits at a smaller size doesn’t have the same experience or the same impact as having them really big,” she said.

“The drawings are small. I do them in my sketchbook; they’re about 8 by 10 inches. From there, I scan them and blow them up really big and then I adhere them to the wall. So, it’s just like wallpapering that you may do in a house: You just take the paper, the glue, you put it onto the wall. This show was really site-specific. I had to come here, be in the space, measure how big the wall is, what size I want it to be and how much of the wall I want to fill, all of that.  So, it wasn’t just doing a painting and sticking it onto the wall. I really had to do it based on being here and being in this space.”

The internationally known painter who grew up on Oklahoma City’s Eastside isn’t the first artist to apply art directly on the walls of Oklahoma Contemporary Art Center’s State Fair Park gallery. But she will be the last.

Titled “Oklahoma Is Black,” Fazlalizadeh’s new body of large-scale wheatpaste posters and vivid oil paintings is the last exhibit in Oklahoma Contemporary’s fairgrounds space. The nonprofit arts organization is moving later this year into a new facility under construction on Automobile Alley in downtown OKC.

“We really wanted to honor the location that’s nurtured the arts center all these years – and not just Oklahoma Contemporary. This was a space for art going back over 60 years now, I think, so it’s got a long and rich history. We see people come through our doors who remember coming to the planetarium as kids, so this building and the various different organizations that have occupied it have made a huge impact on people’s lives here. As the current stewards of this space, we see that as a responsibility that we maintain, to honor people’s relationships with the space and make sure that we are always programming it with high-quality experiences, artworks and classes that continue the rich tradition of this building,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis.

“This exhibit, ‘Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black,’ is one way for us to honor the people who have traditionally supported us over the years and also to connect to communities that are new to us and that maybe have yet to walk through our doors, yet to experience our programs. So, it’s a way to say goodbye but also hello.”

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
A person looks at an exhibit by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, titled "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
A person looks at an exhibit by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, titled "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Artistic experience

An OKC native now based in Brooklyn, New York, Fazlalizadeh, 33, conceived her first hometown art exhibit as "a love letter to black people and to blackness in Oklahoma." To prepare for the exhibit, she made a series of visits to her hometown last year to interview and photograph people, drive around her old neighborhood and even host an autumn open call on the Eastside to discuss black experiences in OKC.

“I hope that these people just look like regular black folks, ‘cause that’s who they are. And I think that they are important simply because of that. … It’s just real. It’s just real life. It’s who this woman is,” she said, looking at a billboard-size version of her drawing “Ashley,” depicting a mother holding her baby. 

“I’m hoping that when people come to the show, a lot of people see themselves. I hope that they see themselves represented on these walls. I hope they see their family members, their friends. I hope they see a memory. I hope they see a loved one, and I hope that they feel seen and heard and represented. For other folks, I hope that they come to this show and I hope that they simply learn something, that they consider something – consider a life, consider an experience – that they may never have considered or even cared about before or valued before. I want whoever’s to see this show to understand that the people who are on these walls are valued, that they simply exist and that’s enough. I hope that people take away from this beautiful work, beautiful words, and an experience. I think the show is really an experience for people to walk through.”

The opening reception for “Oklahoma Is Black” drew more than 500 people, which Davis said is a record for Oklahoma Contemporary, formerly known as City Arts Center.

“I think this continues the work that Oklahoma Contemporary has been doing for the last few years in really making meaningful connections with our community and making sure we’re showcasing work of people that really represent the breadth and diversity of our city. When you make those meaningful connections to different communities and different people in your community – when people see themselves reflected in the programs and the work that you’re presenting – I think you get a warm reception. And people want to see it, they want to be a part of it, they’re excited to participate. I think that this is just the next evolution of the work that we’re doing at Oklahoma Contemporary for several years now,” Davis said.

“This exhibition and our work with Tatyana was definitely a part of that plan. City Arts Center in 1989 was founded really as a community arts space, and we thought there would be no better way to close the fairgrounds operation than by connecting with an artist who’s from Oklahoma, who’s got a major impact in the national and international art community, but also works really closely with her community members. She investigates the stories of people, she elevates the voices of those who are traditionally marginalized or don’t have access to a microphone to help them tell their stories. So, we knew that would be a great way for us to continue to expand our exhibitions programs and make some meaningful connections – and present some really incredible artwork while doing that.”

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait as she installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait as she installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, Feb. 19, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
A person looks at "Progressive Citizens," a large-scale paper and wheatpaste installation by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
A person looks at "Progressive Citizens," a large-scale paper and wheatpaste installation by artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. It is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Continued momentum

Although the arts center will continue to offer summer camps and classes, once “Oklahoma Is Black” closes in May, much of the staff’s attention will shift toward the move to Automobile Alley. Oklahoma Contemporary’s new home is due to open late this year on a more than 4 1/2-acre campus at NW 11 and Broadway. Designed by architect Rand Elliott and being built by Smith & Pickel Construction, it will include a 6,000-square-foot main gallery, classroom studios, performance spaces, a community lounge, café and outdoor spaces.

“Even if it seemed like nothing was happening all those years, there was a lot going on behind the scenes: planning, market analyses, developing feasibility studies. This is the culmination of years and years of work, and it’s finally able to be physically manifest in our new location,” Davis said.

“Even though it seems like it grew out of the ground from nowhere, it’s been the culmination of a really long and deliberate process. So, we’re thrilled. Finally, here in really just a few months … we’ll be able to throw open our doors and welcome everybody who’s been waiting to see the next evolution of Oklahoma Contemporary.”

Although the organization isn’t yet revealing details for the inaugural exhibit in its new space, Davis said it will provide a through line between Oklahoma Contemporary’s past, present and future.

“There’s certainly projects that we’re developing now with artists who have international reputations and who are from different parts of the world,” he said. “But we really look to find artists and projects and performances and programs that have some connection to … the people of Oklahoma, the history here, the themes and ideas that are really resonating in the city and in the state. We use that as part of our criteria, and we reach out to artists who we think will make meaningful connections to the people of Oklahoma. And hopefully we continue to do that.”

People looks at large-scale wheatpaste drawings in the exhibit "Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
People looks at large-scale wheatpaste drawings in the exhibit "Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
"Kelley," a wheatpaste poster paired with an oil painting by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
"Kelley," a wheatpaste poster paired with an oil painting by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

ON VIEW

“Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black”

Through: May 19.

Where: Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, 3000 General Pershing Blvd.

Artist discussion: 6 p.m. April 18 with Fazlalizadeh and A-lan Holt, director of the Office of Diversity in the Arts at Stanford.

Gallery talks: 6 p.m. Wednesday, April 9, April 23 and May 7.

Information: 951-0000 and oklahomacontemporary.org.

COMING SOON

Read more of my interview with Tatyana Fazlalizadeh in The Oklahoman’s special section Outlook: The Way We Live April 7.

-BAM

Related Photos
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

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[Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, an artist who was born and raised in Oklahoma City but is now based in Brooklyn, New York, and Steve Boyd, exhibitions manager at Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center, look over artwork on Feb. 19 as they install Fazlalizadeh's exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-c9faadf90f7440cd93f94879873b4f59.jpg" alt="Photo - Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs her artwork for her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 19 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. 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[Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-1d77acb583adef601f61084b50f78c43.jpg" alt="Photo - People looks at large-scale wheatpaste drawings in the exhibit "Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title="People looks at large-scale wheatpaste drawings in the exhibit "Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>People looks at large-scale wheatpaste drawings in the exhibit "Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, on Feb. 21 at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-631d950523d6fb59eee9a151347f049d.jpg" alt="Photo - "Kelley," a wheatpaste poster paired with an oil painting by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title=""Kelley," a wheatpaste poster paired with an oil painting by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. [Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>"Kelley," a wheatpaste poster paired with an oil painting by Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, is part of her exhibit "Oklahoma Is Black," a depiction and celebration of Oklahoma City's rich black history, at Oklahoma Contemporary in Oklahoma City. 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Brandy McDonnell

Brandy McDonnell, also known by her initials BAM, writes stories and reviews on movies, music, the arts and other aspects of entertainment. She is NewsOK’s top blogger: Her 4-year-old entertainment news blog, BAM’s Blog, has notched more than 1... Read more ›

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