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Imagination Engagement

A collective of like-minded black artists in the Tulsa area, Black Moon is breaking standards, pushing innovation, and cultivating creativity among the local community.

Michele Chiappetta
Sarah Eliza Roberts
September 28, 2019

One of the things that makes Tulsa amazing is its dedication to its arts scene. Sure, Tulsa is smaller than places like New York City and Los Angeles, but that doesn’t mean artists are absent here. Just the opposite. Green Country is continually finding ways to bring the love of all the arts — music, painting, sculpture, multimedia, performance, writing, and more — to anyone and everyone in the area.

Of course, there is always room to grow too, to welcome new, vibrant, diverse voices to the forefront. That’s one of the goals of Black Moon, a collective of black artists in the Tulsa area breaking standards, pushing innovation, and cultivating creativity among the local community.

Elizabeth Henley, a painter and Black Moon’s founder, formed the group with several like-minded creatives in March 2018. “I was involved with some other art groups and collectives in showing art around town, and I realized there wasn’t a strong presence of artists of color in Tulsa,” Henley says. “I kept meeting amazing black artists who didn’t have any way to show their work.”

Henley found seven other artists to participate in what was to be Black Moon’s first showing, a First Friday Art Crawl. But that day, the weather went south, as it often does in Oklahoma, and the art crawl wasn’t doable. Thankfully, Tulsa Artist Fellowship came to Black Moon’s rescue, helping them find indoor space for their art show. Since that fateful, successful day, Black Moon’s artists have never looked back. “This is something that our community needed, that we needed,” she says.

The name of the group, explains Henley, is a play on many things — Tulsa’s oil history and its local black artists, for example. “The moon is a new moon, a new beginning,” she says. “We cultivate artists of color in the area.”

The group’s current membership includes 10 local artists who work in varying mediums — Henley (a painter); her sister Christina Henley (painter, sculptress, printmaker); Alexander Tamahn (painter, muralist, bead artist); Aundria Braggs (painter, digital media artist); Erica Martez (fabric designer, fabric artist); Melody Allen (painter); MOLLYWATTA (painter, fabric artist); nosamyrag (photographer); Summer Washington (drawing, painting); and Tai Tindall (painter, sculptress, printmaker).

“We want to open up the group to other artists too,” says Henley. They’ve done this already once, asking for artists to apply, just as they would have to apply for a gallery show, with a CV and portfolio. It can be a scary prospect for some artists at first, but it’s a healthy way to get used to the rigors of promoting one’s work.

“We hope that we keep getting artists confident to go out on their own. Artists, in general, often feel not talented enough or intimidated to participate. It’s important that they keep being creative, keep practicing whatever artistic skills they have,” Henley says.

In keeping with Black Moon’s goal of opening up the local arts scene for artists of color, Black Moon has shown their works at different spots around Tulsa and Oklahoma City. One notable show, My Black Life, was a great success this past July.

“We took Americana and pop culture references and flipped them to interpret what it means to be a person of color in America today,” Henley says. The group created a timeline around all four walls of the TAC Gallery — listing things as innocuous as their birthday, and as emotionally charged as the first time one of them was called the ‘N’ word. They also touched on the first time a person felt their hair without asking, the first time someone made fun of them for dating outside of their race, and other things they’ve experienced.

One of the powerful results of the show was how it brought people together through the experience. “It didn’t matter what people’s backgrounds were,” she says. “So many could relate [to it all]. It was so amazing to hear people’s stories and how they navigate being a minority in America.”

Black Moon has also been participating in the Conciliation Series, a set of art shows at the Black Wall Street Gallery in the Greenwood District. The shows paired up two artists each — one black, one white — to display their works at the same time, to encourage collaboration. It’s the kind of project, says Henley, that focuses not just on the tragedy and pain of what happened to Black Wall Street in 1921, but also on the dream that was there.

“A whole community of black people got together and created something,” she notes. “It’s the kind of camaraderie and support and motivation that you don’t get if you’re just out there by yourself.”

In many ways, that sense of mutual support and collaboration is what makes Black Moon shine. In addition to holding group art shows, Black Moon’s members critique each other’s work, offer creative support to each other, and host a website that includes an e-commerce store where artists can connect with those who want to buy their work.

“With the collective, we all push each other to do better,” says Henley. “My productivity has improved so much.” The group, she says, looks forward to promoting others too, especially in north Tulsa. And the value of that collective effort is mighty.

“There’s an old proverb that says, if you want to go alone, you’ll go fast, but go together, and you’ll reach your destination,” Henley says. “If we want our community to grow — artists and Tulsa alike — then we have to do it together.”

Black Moon