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Interview, photos and video: Internationally known artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh presents first hometown exhibit with Oklahoma Contemporary's 'Oklahoma Is Black'

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Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait in front of a paper and wheatpaste installation titled "Ashley," which 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait in front of a paper and wheatpaste installation titled "Ashley," which 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her exhibit "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]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her exhibit "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 version of this story appears in the special section "Outlook: The Way We Live - Celebrating Our Diversity," included in the Sunday Life section of The Oklahoman. To read more about "Oklahoma Is Black," click here

'Oklahoma Is Black': Internationally known artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh celebrates the 'everyday, regular blackness' of her hometown

This spring, portraits of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s mother, aunts and brother, faces of folks from her old neighborhood and even her memories of burgers from Geronimo’s and chicken from Bobo’s are emblazoned on the walls of Oklahoma Contemporary Arts Center.

“It’s sometimes difficult to try to articulate your childhood, right, because it’s just your childhood. It’s just growing up. But there are memories that I have of Oklahoma that since I have left that I see as these sort of shared black experiences … for a lot of black folks in America: things like going over to your grandmother’s house or playing with your play cousins or listening to a certain type of music or things that we do with our hair as black women. Those are the things that stick out to me,” said the Oklahoma City native, standing in the middle of Oklahoma Contemporary’s State Fair Park gallery.

“It’s really these small moments that sort of make up your life that just happen organically that we sometimes don’t notice or acknowledge because they’re just an everyday part of our lives that I really want to pull out and pinpoint and to celebrate -- to celebrate really just everyday, regular blackness.”

Titled “Oklahoma Is Black,” the exhibition of large-scale wheatpaste posters and vivid oil paintings is the first hometown show for the internationally known artist who grew up on Oklahoma City’s Eastside. The last exhibit in its fairgrounds space, the opening reception drew more than 500 people, setting a record for the nonprofit arts organization, which is moving later this year into a new facility on Automobile Alley in downtown OKC.

“Tatyana gets most of the credit for the beautiful work that she did, not only in her studio creating these large wheatpaste works and the oil paintings, but also in her extensive outreach into the community,” said Oklahoma Contemporary Artistic Director Jeremiah Matthew Davis. “She’s from here, so she’s had connections to Oklahoma City, to the northeastern community, to the black community, her entire life. I think her friends and family, people in her circle, are really excited for her success that she’s been able to achieve in New York City and were thrilled to welcome her home.”

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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 installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]
"America Is Black," a paper and wheatpaste installation 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
"America Is Black," a paper and wheatpaste installation 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Worldwide acclaim

Fazlalizadeh was just 17 when she left her hometown for Philadelphia to attend The University of the Arts. She lived there for almost 10 years before moving to Brooklyn, where she first came to widespread attention with her “Stop Telling Women to Smile” street art series depicting unsmiling women accompanied by slogans like “My Outfit Is Not an Invitation” and “Critiques on My Body Are Not Welcome.” She used an adhesive called wheatpaste to plaster the large-scale drawings to walls around the world.

“That was something that sort of happened very organically. It wasn’t a project that was planned. It wasn’t planned to be as big as it has been. It’s something that I did based on my experiences,” she said. “I moved to Philadelphia, I started experiencing a ton of street harassment, it had become part of my everyday life, and I wanted to do work that was about it. So, I sort of ventured out of oil painting, which is what I usually do, into doing more public art and street art during that project. Since then, my work has definitely changed.”

Her street art caught the eye of Oscar-winning filmmaker Spike Lee, who tapped her to create work and serve as a consultant on his Netflix series “She's Gotta Have It.” And when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential election, she channeled her emotions into a new street art piece titled “America Is Black,” which she put up in her hometown over the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It was really just me saying back to the public, saying back to the city, especially this state, but also speaking to America in general about who America is. It is kind of countering the narrative of who America, I think, wants to be, based on the election results. (It’s) saying that America are all these other different folks: black folks, brown folks, queer folks, all these different people. It’s not just that we are here, but that we have been here, not that we just sort of popped up. This country was obviously built on the backs of black people and all types of people,” she said.

 “It was me just sort of like coming back and saying, ‘This is actually who we are,’ and not just that but looking specifically at very white places and white spaces and going to talk to people who live in those places and trying to hear from them what their experiences are.”

Fazlalizadeh created a new version of the drawing for the new exhibit, and it features portraits of people of color along with the statement, “America is black. It is Native. It wears a hijab. It is a Spanish speaking tongue. It is migrant. It is trans. It is disabled. It is queer. It is a woman. It is here. Has been here. And it’s not going anywhere.”

“America is so much more, it’s so diverse, there are so many people in America that sometimes don’t get recognition, don’t get their voices heard,” said Jennifer Scanlan, Oklahoma Contemporary’s curatorial and exhibitions director, recalling the impact of the original piece.

“For her, Oklahoma is black in addition to all of the other things we know about Oklahoma. So, she really wanted to look at black Oklahomans and what their lives are like.”

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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 installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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, right, talks about "Progressive Citizens," one of her wheatpaste installations that 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, right, talks about "Progressive Citizens," one of her wheatpaste installations that 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Homecoming show

When Oklahoma Contemporary invited her to create a site-specific exhibit, Fazlalizadeh, 33, said it came with the freedom to make whatever show she wanted.

“Whenever I travel around, at some point, someone’s gonna ask me, ‘I didn’t know that there were black people in Oklahoma?’ or something like that. It sort of blows my mind, so I wanted this show to touch on that. So, this show isn’t just for Oklahomans, even though it’s here. It’s for, I think, everyone to sort of amplify the culture and the history of black folks here,” she said. “I’ve never shown in Oklahoma City before, and not only that, but I’m showing work that features Oklahomans, that is about them. … It’s a very, very personal show for me. It’s coming from my lens, my viewpoint, what I want to say and who I want to represent when it comes 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. She took it all in and used it to create her new drawings and paintings.

““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. … I grew up on the Eastside and my neighborhood is changing so much every time that I come back here. So, I really wanted to say, ‘This is something that I grew up with that I loved and I hope that we can just take a moment to really just look at it and celebrate it and celebrate this blackness that is ours and should be celebrated,” she said.

“I learned a lot, and I also gained, I think, more of an appreciation for Oklahoma City, which is why I’m glad to do this show. Because I always claim Oklahoma, I always tell people I’m an Oklahoma City native, I’m proud to be from here. So, doing this show gave me more just knowledge about the city, which made me appreciate it even more.”

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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 installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]
"Love," 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]
"Love," 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

ON VIEW

“Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma is Black”

Through: May 18.

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. Tuesdays April 9 and 23 and May 7.

Information: 951-0000 and oklahomacontemporary.org.

-BAM 

Related Photos
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait in front of a paper and wheatpaste installation titled "Ashley," which 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait in front of a paper and wheatpaste installation titled "Ashley," which 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019....

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[Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh poses for a portrait in front of a paper and wheatpaste installation titled "Ashley," which 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-6d8d5cecaaee193ad386a7127c3d6fd8.jpg" alt="Photo - Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her exhibit "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]" title="Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her exhibit "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]"><figcaption>Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh talks about her exhibit "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]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-77500b9b6991d700bae5d14df5301732.jpg" alt="Photo - Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]" title="Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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. 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[Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title=""America Is Black," a paper and wheatpaste installation 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>"America Is Black," a paper and wheatpaste installation 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. 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[Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title="Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, right, talks about "Progressive Citizens," one of her wheatpaste installations that 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]"><figcaption>Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, right, talks about "Progressive Citizens," one of her wheatpaste installations that 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-d1665f95f21d32c07210b04f8ac9782d.jpg" alt="Photo - Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]" title="Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]"><figcaption>Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installs one of her large-scale wheatpaste drawings 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]</figcaption></figure><figure><img src="//cdn2.newsok.biz/cache/r960-ac5e21cd6757247fe1689edf9b4ce5de.jpg" alt="Photo - "Love," 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. [Photo by Bryan Terry/The Oklahoman]" title=""Love," 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, Thursday, Feb. 21, 2019. 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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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