Tatyana Fazlalizadeh and Rowhouses

Tatyana Fazlaliadeh's paintings, wheatpasted large-scale drawings, and video

interviews will be on view at Oklahoma Contemporary from Feb. 22 to May 19.

Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh wants you to know her upcoming exhibition at

Oklahoma Contemporary, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh: Oklahoma is Black, will be "a

love letter to black people and to blackness in Oklahoma."

Opening Feb. 22, the exhibition will both depict and celebrate Oklahoma

City's rich black history, highlighting the black lives that have made and

continue to make this city. 

Fazlalizadeh interviewed black residents of

Oklahoma City's Northeast side, where she grew up, about their experiences

living with daily oppressions, particularly racism and sexism.The

exhibition will include wheatpaste portraits of and quotes from those

residents, oil paintings, historic photos and two videos.

"When I talk to a lot of black folks, it's this sense of invisibility that

they feel," she said. "That people walk over them, or walk past them, or

walk through them, or speak over them or speak through them and [they]

aren't really seen. This show is about undoing that, amplifying current

black life and current blackness to honor our black history and the fact

that we are still here. We've made it through all these attempts at

erasure and attempts at violence against us."

Fazlalizadeh juxtaposed bold, provocative words from the interviews with

textures of black life and tender moments. "It's going to be a look at

black history, but the historical blackness of regular black people," she


Oklahoma is Black will be the final exhibition at Oklahoma Contemporary's

fairgrounds location. The organization's new campus will open at NW 11th

and Broadway this fall.

"Currently there are several artists addressing issues of identity and

oppression on a national level," said Jennifer Scanlan, exhibitions and

curatorial director for Oklahoma Contemporary. "What is particularly

exciting about Tatyana's work is that it speaks specifically to Oklahoma

City, the experiences of people here."

The exhibition name references Fazlalizadeh's America is Black, a series

that began with a spontaneous piece installed on Oklahoma City's 23rd

Street when Fazlalizadeh came home for the holidays in 2016.

"The election had just happened," Fazlalizadeh said. "I was like a lot of

Americans: angry, afraid, vulnerable, feeling the need to do something, to

take some action."

The piece paired large-scale portraits with the words: "America is Black.

It is native. It wears a hijab. It is a Spanish speaking tongue. It is a

woman. It is here, has been here and it's not going anywhere."

Fazlalizadeh said most Oklahomans reacted positively. "People said that

they would stand outside of it for like an hour -- just be with it and

take photos, because it made them feel seen. It made them feel safe. That

is something I wanted to do -- I wanted to let people feel seen. That even

though this election just happened, to not be afraid to know that you are

here and you matter and that you are recognized, and I think people felt


Now living and working in Brooklyn, Fazlalizadeh has been internationally

recognized for her artwork of portraits and words that give voices to

people who are often marginalized, including women, people of color and

the LGBTQ community. Her works can be found in cities around the world.

Few know it began in Oklahoma.

"I found this beautiful black and white photograph of a child in a

magazine," said Fazlalizadeh, who was born in Oklahoma City. "I wanted to

draw it, but I wanted to draw it very, very well and render it as close to

the photograph as I could. So, I took my time with it and I spent a few

days on it. When I finished it, I showed it to my mom, and she was like

'This is amazing. Show this to everyone.'"

On that list was Quiquia Calhoun, an art teacher at OKC's Northeast High

School, who gave Fazlalizadeh room to experiment with paint, pastels and

pencils — and portraits. Fazlalizadeh said her interest in drawing and

painting people increased at University of the Arts in Philadelphia and as

her career began, painting images of celebrities as a freelance magazine

illustrator. Fazlalizadeh balanced building a portfolio with paying the

bills, hostessing at a restaurant while cold-calling magazine art

directors and hand-painting T-shirts for a clothing store.

The transition into her current practice began as she segued into painting

murals and working with the community through work with Mural Arts

Philadelphia. "I came from working in my studio, where you're just

isolated sitting by yourself at an easel, just painting alone in your room

to working outside, surrounded by people and working on this huge scale.

It's just a really big difference, and there are joys that I find in both

of them."

And then came Stop Telling Women to Smile, a street art project addressing

gender-based street harassment. Fazlalizadeh said the series began about

her own encounters, but, as responses began rolling in from around the

globe, she decided she needed to include more voices.

"Street harassment is not just my singular experience," she realized.

"This needs to be a bigger project because this is bigger than me, this is

bigger than my own experience." She began to interview women as subjects

for the pieces themselves, pairing their portraits with their own words.

The more she told those stories, the more her own began to be told.

Fazlalizadeh has been profiled by the New York Times, NPR, MSNBC, Time

Magazine, Buzzfeed, Vice Magazine and many others. She is a Forbes 30

Under 30 recipient, the Public Artist in Residence for the New York City

Commission on Human Rights and the inspiration for Spike Lee's remake of

She's Gotta Have It for Netflix.

A few years ago, Lee Instagrammed one of Fazlalizadeh's street pieces,

asking "Who is this artist?" Friends put them in touch, and Lee both began

buying her art and using it in his movies. "He really likes me, and he

really believes in my work," she said, so when he approached her with a

script for the She's Gotta Have It remake, she was in.

The show's main character is an artist. All of the oil paintings featured

in the show are by Fazlalizadeh, who also consulted with the writers. Some

of the paintings were works she'd already done; some were created

specifically for the show. "It was very interesting, very new obviously, a

challenging experience. Never thought in a million years I'd be doing

something like that," she said.

Between She's Gotta Have It and Stop Telling Women to Smile, Fazlalizadeh,

who left Oklahoma as a 17-year-old going to art school, returns as an

internationally renowned artist.

"I do know this is a very different audience than I think anywhere that

I've shown before," she said. "I love black people, and you are going to

see that and feel that, but at the same time, it has to be hitting in some

ways. So, for me, it's like, doing both, making this sort of soft, tender

thing, but also this very hard-hitting thing, and doing so in a way that

has some type of effect on the audience, no matter who it is."

She hopes the art will work on multiple levels. "It's been drawn by

someone who's also black, who's also a woman, who's also from Oklahoma,

who's from this community. I think that who the artist making the artwork

is matters - because white people paint black people all the time - but

it's different when the artist is reflecting someone. That intention comes

there, that empathy comes there, that compassion, that history of

experience comes through that."

Oklahoma is Black opens with a reception at 5:30 p.m. Feb. 21.

Fazlaliadeh's paintings, wheatpasted large-scale drawings, and video

interviews will be on view at Oklahoma Contemporary from Feb. 22 to May 19.

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