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Movement and color

Tulsa Artist Fellows discuss how migration shapes their work

North (Our Sacred Ancestors), 2019.

Edgar Fabián Frías

Can art help us understand experiences that aren’t our own? Five artists will tackle this question during an upcoming panel discussion examining how immigration informs their art practices. 

Tulsa Artist Fellows Sarah Ahmad, Rafael Corzo, Edgar Fabián Frías, Moheb Soliman and Dallas-based artist Simeen Farhat will take part in the hour-long panel, running from 6:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Sept. 17. The free event is designed to encourage dialogue around the movement of bodies and the making of art. 

Ahmad grew up in Lahore, Pakistan, and moved to the U.S. in 1995 when she was in her 20s. She lived in Tennessee for 21 years, earning a master’s degree in education and teaching K-12 visual art. A divorce led her to a newfound passion for art, earning her MFA in 2013 before receiving a Tulsa Artist Fellowship in January 2019. 

“I was creating my own identity and rebuilding my life here,” she said. “It was just creating my own self-identifying identity, which was neither one or the other. It’s like this hybrid combination of all these experiences and multiple identities. So I think my sense of belonging took on a different meaning as it evolved.” 

Corzo, meanwhile, comes from Mexico. He moved to New York to study ceramics, and started with the Tulsa Artist Fellowship in 2018. In addition to ceramics, he also draws, paints and uses metal casting and light in his art. He hopes the upcoming panel will underscore the humanity and diversity of immigrant experiences. Corzo believes each artist should be recognized within their own history, stressing they are not all on the same path despite their shared experiences of migration. 

Frías was born to undocumented parents in Southern California who moved to the U.S. due to great economic need, Frías said. The rural area where they lived was, in many ways, not kind to Latinx people.

“I grew up in a predominantly Latinx community where most individuals were immigrants,” they said. “I always grew up knowing that I needed to assimilate and to ‘pass’ within this context and that our family was always in danger of being separated by immigration officials. My parents were constantly worried about their immigration status, and we often heard stories of relatives and friends being deported or arrested.”

Frías said their immigration story has given them a feeling of being in a liminal space. “I am a hybridized being and a interstitial explorer not only when it comes to my immigration status but also when it comes to the academic disciplines I engage, the mediums I chose to work with, and the communities I connect through my praxes,” Frías said. 

“It has also given me a very unique window into the lives of undocumented and immigrant folks in this country and has allowed me to be a bridge and conduit for these communities within my work,” they said. “It is the reason why I have chosen to highlight and weave in narratives and issues that belong to folks from within my communities and why much of my work is about destabilizing these problematic regimentations.”

Soliman, who joined the Tulsa Artist Fellowship in 2018, is a poet from Egypt who moved to Stillwater at age 6. He has lived across the Midwest, and his work deals with nature, modernity, identity and belonging through writing, performance and installation projects. Soliman said his work examines the Midwest from an immigrant perspective. 

“I wanted to come back and be in this place that I came to as an Egyptian kid and think about it from a perspective of 30-plus years later. From a perspective of a thoroughly Americanized person,” he said. 

He often thinks about being from Oklahoma but not really being from Oklahoma at all. 

Farhat, meanwhile, is a Dallas-based artist originally from Pakistan. Farhat’s work has been collected and exhibited in the U.S., Europe, Asia, Australia and the Middle East.

The artists will discuss their personal stories and viewpoints through three discussion questions on Sept. 17 at the Tulsa Artist Fellowship Lewis Project Space, known as The Lodge, 20 S. Lewis Ave., in the Kendall Whittier neighborhood. 

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Editor’s note: Kristi Eaton is a 2019 Tulsa Artist Fellow