The Philbrook Museum is addressing Oklahoma’s history of racism. Through its new series, with partners including Tri-City Collective, Fulton Street Books and Coffee, and The Black Wall St Times, and featuring multiple galleries, the Philbrook is taking on historical trauma, today’s racist policies, and the future of the United States.
“From the Limitations of Now,” inspired by Oklahoma author Ralph Ellison, begins with a large green American flag, a nod to civil rights hero John Lewis, who inspired millions as a political organizer of the past, present and future of America. Mr. Lewis was an optimist about the direction of our country, according to Philbrook curator Sara O’Keeffe, even as he knew he would not live to see all the changes.
The Philbrook, too, has made changes since it was donated as a large estate in 1928, a gift from the Phillips family to the city of Tulsa. A combination art gallery along with flower-filled grounds accessible to all visitors, the museum boasts a focus on the artistic expression of identity.
Museum working to feature underrepresented artists
Yet, prior to the current series, the Philbrook, like other Oklahoma galleries, infrequently featured local artists — or artists who were not yet known in the art world. Ms. O’Keeffe, originally from New York, vowed to change that as curator, pushing for a museum that reflects the history and context of its home.
In that vein, the newest series based on Oklahoma author Ralph Ellison’s work includes local artists from Tri-City Collective, whose founder, Quraysh Ali Lansana, helped inspire the exhibit through dialogue about the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, along with the Red Summer and other racial programs of that time. There is a station for visitors to create and share their own art, as well as featured books from local independent store Fulton Street.
“Museums teach history,” Ms. O’Keeffe said during an interview with the Black Wall St. Times. “The art we provide is there to tell stories.” After years of an art world supported by rich White men, The Philbrook has vowed to create an inclusive, accessible atmosphere, full of pieces from those who are not traditionally “market value” artists.
Interactive displays of historic all-Black towns
To that end, featured artists have created interactive displays focusing on Oklahoma’s history, including all-black towns, portraits of America, and symbols of destruction and rebirth. The series not only takes place on the Philbrook’s more modern-art side, but also in the historical collection area.
The Philbrook describes “From the Limitations of Now” as a “reflection on the violence of American history.” It symbolizes “the power of ancestors who worked in the face of violence to forge a more just world, and a speculation on visions of a future that is still yet to be.” The exhibition runs through September 5.
Children under age 17 can attend for free, and residents who receive benefits can enter The Philbrook for just $1. See Philbrook.org for more information.