Work by the 2016 Tulsa Artist Fellows is featured at 108 Contemporary
From May through November of this year, we covered each of the Tulsa Artist Fellowship fellows, one per issue for a total of eleven. Until October, there were twelve fellows, but artist Clarissa Rizal had to leave unexpectedly. She was diagnosed on October 14 with terminal liver and colon cancer and left Tulsa within weeks for Pagosa Springs, Colorado, where her family now cares for her.
I had the chance to interview Rizal and see some of her weavings before she left—a rare experience for which I consider myself lucky. Rizal hosted me in her sunny studio apartment for two hours and told me about her personal history with weaving, the need for no ego in her practice, and something she called her “left hand corner,”—a sort of sixth sense.
Now through January 22, 108 Contemporary in the Brady Arts District is home to “Syncretic,” a curated show exhibiting work from each of the Tulsa Artist Fellows, including Rizal. Though Rizal’s weaving isn’t on display, a beautiful drawing called “Totemic Theories,” is. Additionally, a percentage of sales from “Syncretic” (and all proceeds from Rizal’s piece) benefit Rizal’s medical funds.
When I entered “Syncretic” I felt a mixed bag of emotions. Having spent time with each of the artists, I was thrilled to see each of their original works that were created this year in Tulsa. I was surprised at some of the curator’s choices, and delighted at much of the arrangement.
“The show was a curatorial assignment to find connections between the artists,” said Louise Giddons, the show’s curator. “For me, that was a fun challenge. Here are twelve artists selected individually, not through a curatorial process. Are there conversations happening in their work?”
Though the artists had all been in Tulsa for most of 2016, Giddons didn’t assume the geographic proximity would automatically create a thematic connection among the work.
“But, they are contemporary artists,” she said, “and so they are related. I looked at their work closely and thought about what kind of story I could tell about the fellowship as an experience and provide a snapshot of contemporary art that happens to be here.”
The snapshot she has crafted inside 108 Contemporary does feel intentional, and it does feel curated—though with 12 random artists anything could have happened. To me, I looked at it through the lens of a year of art made here in Tulsa by a wildly dynamic group, which is now less one of its members.
I also thought about Rizal, who couldn’t be there for the show, and whose activities are now drastically limited. She is bedridden and her health is fading.
When I spoke with her in early October, she told me many memorable things, but here is one: In Chilkat weaving, one of the Tlingit methods of artistry in which she was prolific, there is never to be a human hand woven into a piece.
“When you put a human hand on anything, what does that signify?” she asked me. “Ownership. I was here. You put a human hand in the weaving and—no. It’s enough to know that only a human can take the wool from the mammal, and the bark from the tree, and fashion regalia. You don’t need to make the statement I was here.”
The art makes that statement. And in looking at “Syncretic,” we can be comforted by that fact. She was here. They were all here.
Editor’s note: This morning, Nov. 7, Clarissa Rizal died in her home in Pagosa Springs, Colorado.
For more from Liz, read her dispatch from Standing Rock.