Edit ModuleShow Tags

Boundary crossing

Black Moon Collective unites local black artists

Black Moon Collective members nosamyrag, Elizabeth Henley, MOLLYWATTA, Christina Henley, and Alexander Tamahn

Greg Bollinger

Black people aren’t expected to be nerdy. That’s one of those stupid stereotype-fueled assumptions that somehow survived the ‘90s and still afflicts our culture today.

Identity is often trapped or repressed by the limits of culture. For a person of color it’s sometimes hard to feel it’s fine to be whatever you like. Can you be a black hipster who loves Sufjan Stevens, a dork obsessed with BBC comedies and NPR, a pacifist, a line-dancing Toby Keith fan, or even something as universally human as an artist?

Elizabeth Henley is both a nerd and an artist, though, and she defies many stereotypes. She loves comics, corny food puns, sci-fi graphic novels, and campy B horror films—but mostly Henley loves visual art in all its forms. She displayed her own artwork in the Holy Mother Collective show at Living Arts of Tulsa in January. For the show, Henley painted a towering blue alien goddess with an afro. She named her Nova. Nova was meant to symbolize the “woman of all women.”

“She looks all space-y and sci-fi and regal, and she had this wiring around her lady parts,” Henley said.

“Over the summer [last year] I had some health issues. The doctors found some uterine fibers, and I had to have surgery. So, I had the choice of whether I wanted the doctors to completely remove everything with a hysterectomy or keep some things with the potential of having kids. So, it was basically like, ‘Do you want kids in the future or do you not?’”

This difficult inflection point changed Henley’s life.

“After the surgery I knew that I really wanted to pursue art, pursue what I love. It kind of tied everything together, being a woman, being a black woman, being an artist—all of that just kind of came to a point where I was like, okay, this is what I want to do.”

In the months that followed, this introverted young woman founded Black Moon Collective, a group for Tulsa’s black artists.

Black Moon Collective consists of eight local artists, including Henley and her sister Christina. Henley has been slowly curating the group and adding new members as she meets artists who inspire her. The members cross aesthetic and genre boundaries—they represent Henley’s desire to build an artistic community of color that collaborates regardless of background.

“The end goal is to be a working artist. No one was sharing that knowledge with us. So I was like, I need to pull us together for this one goal. Because I know these guys have talent, and I know this is something that Tulsa needs.

“I was in that [Holy Mother] show, and I was trying to be that representation, but I know there’s more black women. There’s more black artists who have a voice, and they need to share that voice,” Henley said. “I needed to create a safe place for them to feel confident to share art. That’s what’s awesome about Holy Mother. All of these female artists out there collaborating and working together. That’s why North Tulsa artists haven’t been recognized. I feel like we haven’t really supported each other. That’s what I want to show. We’re this group and we’re pushing together, and we’re supporting each other.”

There’s a wide array of talent on display within Black Moon. Henley’s sister Christina graduated from OSU with a degree in fine arts, and she works in numerous forms, including bronze sculptures and linocuts, a form of printmaking in which a piece of linoleum is etched with a sharp knife. Christina’s linocuts are elaborate bi-chromatic carvings with layers of dimensionality in the eyes and faces of the characters she creates.

Painter Devon Jones, aka Monarch Jones, is another member. Jones, who moved to Tulsa from Boston nine months ago, paints radiant, figurative acrylics of luminaries like Prince and Samuel L. Jackson.

There are also artists within the group’s ranks who have confronted local censorship issues. Alexander Tamahn was asked to paint a Día de los Muertos mural behind Elgin Park, and his piece included the words “Black Lives Matter.” He was told it would have to be painted over. Living Arts has since invited him to display his mural in their gallery space, and Black Moon has served as another platform for Tamahn and others like him to share their work.

“I just couldn’t believe that people would think that was controversial,” Henley said. “It was beautiful. I’m so inspired by our Black Moon artists. Witnessing their talent—their projects and creative process—blows my mind.”

The collective’s next event will be at John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park on Friday, June 1, the final day of the John Hope Franklin 2018 Symposium. Organized by the 1921 Race [Massacre] Centennial Commission, the event will feature live music by Steph Simon and Tea Rush and live paintings by members of Black Moon Collective.

Black Moon Collective at Remembering Black Wall Street
Friday, June 1 | 6:00–9:00 p.m.
John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park
321 N. Detroit Ave.

Edit ModuleShow Tags

More from this author 

Making the news

Bringing black voices back to Oklahoma airwaves

Facing the divide

Tulsa City Council aims to repair decades of distrust in policing