Our series, Interview with the Artist, is an effort to get to know the art professionals who live and work in Tulsa. This week we interviewed Tulsa Artist Fellow, Crystal Z Campbell to talk about her current projects as well as delving into questions about works of art and their final destination. Be sure to catch the video below, where Campbell takes the viewer on an operatic walk through Stromboli, Italy!
Crystal Z Campbell is a US artist of African-American, Filipino and Chinese descent raised in Oklahoma. Campbell’s project based, mixed-media works are poetic excavations of unsettled historical narratives operating between minimalism, abstraction and selective figuration. Campbell uses art as a tool for agency, time-travel and interdisciplinary research. Campbell’s works have exhibited internationally and she is a former fellow at Rijksakademie van beeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam and Van Lier Fellow at Whitney Museum of American Art’s Independent Study Program. Campbell is currently a Tulsa Artist Fellow.
Was getting your two master’s degrees a game changer, why?
It sort of happened by accident…when I finished my bachelor’s degree in visual art, I did my first professional art residency at Skowhegan School of Painting and Sculpture and stayed matriculated for a yearlong study abroad in Valencia, Spain. After doing social work for a year, I applied for graduate school and completed a Master’s in Africana Studies at the University at Albany in New York. I wanted to have a broader historical and conceptual understanding of being a woman of color and the different ways race, gender and class narratives are reinstated by institutions and traditions. This program supplemented my art background with research, academic writing and questions about community while providing a lot of historical material to develop proposals and concepts––skills which I use daily in my interdisciplinary art practice. Afterwards, I debated about going for a PhD and ended up opting for an MFA in Visual Arts at the University of California-San Diego when they offered a full ride.
How does your interaction with the community evolve from your initial encounter to the realization of a piece?
The word community is puzzling to me, and with each project I’m negotiating what that means. For instance, a few years ago, I worked on a difficult project based on the Jonestown massacre where nearly 1000 members of a religious cult were killed. My encounter with this “community” was only through archived videos, writings, books and sound. And in this case, the “community” was a multicultural cult influenced by communism and socialism. The “community” aspect of this cult was first by choice, and then it became difficult for people to leave, once they relocated to Guyana.
However, I was interested in this “community” for reasons that suggest it was the epitome of a failed multicultural utopia, and the questions mirrored by the attempt to curate the perfect “community.” Because my encounter was mediated through historical archives and the multiplicity of historical narratives are often edited in archives, I created a work with some distance. I developed a blindfolded operatic audio performance walk enacted on the island of Stromboli, Italy.
Art is able to create substantial results in political life, in social life, and in our collective reality. The German artist Joseph Beuys believed ‘’in the creative capacity of every individual to shape society through participation in cultural, political, and economic life’’.Do you see exhibition as art’s only possible, ultimate destination? Are there other mediums that you look to?
That’s an interesting Beuys quote, particularly the aspect of collective reality. The interesting thing about art is the number of entry points that can work simultaneously. Since moving to Tulsa, I’ve started doing community workshops with elders in North Tulsa, many of whom had family or grew up in the predominantly African-American Greenwood district. They’ve generously shared personal experiences of Greenwood, things that would not find their way into history books. Their words carry over, and I use paint to transcribe their words into drawings over archival photographic images of Greenwood before and after the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921. The paint is thick, raised and tactile, which for me becomes a way of materializing these histories so they can be read differently.
While this ongoing series of drawings would fit in a normal exhibition or gallery space, I am working on a related light installation that will exist temporarily in public space. Searcher will be a light installation of four roving searchlights installed for three nights at the John Hope Franklin Center for Reconciliation Park from June 17-19th. The piece symbolically bridges two historical events: the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 and Juneteenth. The work illuminates a search for hundreds of people who have yet to be accounted for from the Tulsa Race Massacre. On the other hand, one theory behind Junteenth is that the messenger delivering the news of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 didn’t reach his destination, which is why some slaves remained in captivity until June 19, 1865. Searcher honors the missing, and doubles to guide the messenger towards basic civil rights of justice and liberation.
Favorite museum in the mid-west?
Museum of the Art Institute of Chicago.
The George Kaiser Family Foundation established the Tulsa Artist Fellowship (TAF) in 2015 to enhance the local art scene by retaining and recruiting artists to Tulsa. In 2016, TAF welcomed 12 visual artists to the fellowship from near and far. For more information: https://www.tulsaartistfellowship.org/about/