New Art Exhibit Links Greenwood’s Past and Present as Centennial nears

by Nate Morris

Visitors to Historic Greenwood can catch a powerful new art installation at Silhouette Sneakers and Art beginning Friday, April 2nd. 

The show, envisioned by store owner Venita Cooper and brought to life by Tulsa photographer Taylor Mae Hernandez, views some of the darkest moments on Black Wall Street through a modern lens.

“When I saw those historical photos, they were just very powerful to me,” Cooper said. “We have these artifacts that document that time, but we still haven’t acknowledged what was done.”

Cooper is referring to photos taken of the residents of Greenwood around the time of the massacre nearly a century ago. She feels it’s important to acknowledge that the destruction of Greenwood in 1921 is one part of a larger narrative that often goes untold.

“People talk about the massacre as if it was both the beginning and end of harm against Black people in Tulsa,” she said. “But was it? Is it?”

Photographer Taylor Mae Hernandez echoed Cooper’s sentiments.

“The goal of the photo series ‘Massacre’ is to draw attention to the realities of racial relations today,” Hernandez said.  “Many people still believe the stories of racial injustice from the past are over.”

“If we truly want to experience unity, then we have to understand that it’s in our hands to make the change,” she said.

The past and the present collide

Cooper and Hernandez worked with local models Dominic (Duke) Durant, his daughter Paris and Marissa Fraser. Together, they recreated iconic photographs from the time against the backdrop of modern day Greenwood.

Durant told the Times he believed it was important for these images to be captured. He hopes the exhibit “encourages people to continue remembering where we’ve come from so we never forget.”

In one piece, Durant stands along the Frisco tracks with his hands raised above his head.  In the original photograph, a Black man stands on those very tracks a century ago while being detained by a white mob.  The image inspired one of the main statues in John Hope Franklin Reconciliation Park.  By modernizing it, Cooper hopes viewers will see the striking similarities between 1921 and 2021.

Another image of Durant’s daughter covering her ears near the 244 overpass mimics a photograph of a young girl from Greenwood.  “In the original photo, that child was standing in front of a home,” Venita Cooper said. “Now, she’s standing in front of a highway. It takes on a different meaning.”

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Continuing the efforts for change

Cooper plans to exhibit the photographs without providing significant context. She wants to allow visitors to interpret it on their own as they stand in the middle of Greenwood during the 100-year centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre.

As the centennial of the massacre rapidly approaches, calls for justice for survivors and descendants continue. No reparations were ever issued following the massacre and gentrification of the historic area has continued unabated. Mayor Bynum has repeatedly said he is not in favor of providing reparations for the massacre, calling the notion “divisive”. 

Cooper believes the exhibit will help visitors see how extensive and long lasting the racism that destroyed Greenwood truly is.

“I hope that people find it compelling and that they really look at it,” she said. “We have to come to terms with the things we still need to address. We want this to stimulate a conversation.”

The exhibit will be open inside of Silhouette Sneakers and Art from April 2nd through the end of May.

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