Notes from Black Wall Street (Or How to Project Yourself into the Future) is Oklahoma-based artist Crystal Z Campbell’s first solo painting exhibition. On the occasion of the centennial of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, Campbell’s new commission considers the wake of this event into the present day. Featuring several large paintings and one-hundred small paintings with paint often as thick as scars, this series imagines ways in which histories are embedded and embodied narratives written upon us.
From the artist: “In recent years, one of Tulsa’s public secrets, the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, has garnered significant national and international attention after almost a century of being suppressed. But is this progress? After living abroad for five years, I returned to Oklahoma to dig deeper into this narrative I had not heard while growing up in Oklahoma. My arrival in the Greenwood district, forced me to pause. Beyond occasional plaques in the ground, some of which were covered, or even missing, there were hardly any tangible traces of the vibrant Greenwood community that danced, built, breathed, paced, planned, studied, worshipped, shouted, debated, shared, whispered, fought, watched, practiced, and dreamed here. Tulsa’s Greenwood history is a microcosm of American history.
After finding holes cut in newspapers when trying to conduct research on the massacre, and tiring of images of rubble, I began intervening upon these photographs. Notes from Black Wall Street includes 100 painted photographs to meditate on a century of near silence and omission from the historical record. As a counternarrative to these popularized representations, I expanded this series with several large painted photographs that depict yet to be identified women during the rebuilding of Greenwood. Upon looking, these large photographs signaled an important distinction of self-fashioning and self-determination. Fragments of fired clay are housed within extractions in the archival image, symbolically repurposing what could have remained as shards. Watching Tulsa rapidly develop and physically morph over this short time without reparation or atonement, this exhibition is a creative proposal to the city of Tulsa: Will justice enter the frame upon a century?”
Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker, and writer of African American, Filipino, and Chinese descents. Campbell finds complexity in public secrets— fragments of information known by many but untold or unspoken. Recent works revisit questions of immortality and medical ethics with Henrietta Lacks’s “immortal” cell line, ponder the role of a political monument and displacement in a Swedish coastal landscape, and salvage a 35mm film from a demolished Black activist theater in Brooklyn as a relic of gentrification. Sonic, material, and archival traces of the witness informs their work in film, performance, installation, sound, painting, and texts.
Honors and awards include the Pollock-Krasner Award, MAP Fund, MacDowell, MAAA, Skowhegan, Rijksakademie, Whitney ISP, Franklin Furnace; Tulsa Artist Fellowship, and Flaherty Film Seminar. Exhibitions and screening include the Drawing Center (US), Nest (NL), ICA-Philadelphia (US), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (US), REDCAT (US), Artissima (IT), Studio Museum of Harlem (US), Project Row Houses (US), and SculptureCenter (US), amongst others. Campbell’s writing has been featured in World Literature Today, Monday Journal, GARAGE, and Hyperallergic.
Campbell is a Harvard Radcliffe Film Study Center & David and Roberta Logie Fellow (2020-2021) living and working in Oklahoma. Campbell is founder of the virtual programming platform archiveacts.com.