Jarica Walsh’s exhibition Collective Growth is currently on view in Gallery 4 on the first floor in 21c Oklahoma City. This exhibition brings together a variety of botanical cyanotypes made from plants and leaves found in private “corona gardens,” on the grounds of the future First Americans Museum, and around her Oklahoma City neighborhood during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020. Collective Growth, the artist says, focuses on a need for “collective healing in response to collective trauma” and “speaks to movement and progress without minimizing trauma.” Hope Flags, which hangs over the viewer’s head, is an assemblage of cyanotype-printed fabric squares which depict both botanical ephemera and quotations from forty-five individuals from the Oklahoma City area. The artist explains that “the idea was conceived as a way to make a public meditative space for us to safely be together. Each flag is a visual memory of a garden, of someone who turned to gardening as a way of coping with the uncertainty we all experienced with the onset of the pandemic.”
How are you feeling today? This week? This new year?
Jarica Walsh (JW): Honestly, I’m feeling the crush of returning to previous patterns. As I think back to last year, my mind lingers on the luxury of time that we had. It’s a bit strange to think of it in that way because it wasn’t necessarily comforting then to have the free time during the stay at home. But as I rush from meeting to meeting and accept more in-person event invitations, I find myself longing for neighborhood strolls and the quiet skies that weren’t full of airplanes crisscrossing overhead.
But I’m also eager. My practice continues to shift and change and I welcome seasons of growth. I feel the most at home in my practice when I am conceiving of a new series and experimenting with my process to get the results I’m desiring. The quiet moments are where I soar.
What are you looking forward to doing this year in your art practice?
JW: I’m just beginning a new series, and I’m looking forward to delving into it over the next year. I’m part of a group called Matriarch. It’s a Native-led, intertribal organization to empower Indigenous women, 2 Spirit, nonbinary relatives, and children through Indigenous women speakers that address issues impacting Indian Country as well as art, mentorship, and talking circles. It is a place of healing, learning, joy, and supportive sisterhood. I’ve started a new series to honor my sisters and to serve as a record of their handmade work and their generosity in creating and sharing with each other. I’ve included images of a cyanotype photogram on cotton made with Sarah Adams Cornell’s two beaded collar necklaces. Sarah is one of the founders and leaders of Matriarch, an inspiration, and a friend. She is always educating others about Native issues with kindness, bringing a gentle spirit to difficult conversations as she addresses topics like problematic representation and MMIWG2S (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two Spirit people). I wanted to start the Matriarch series with Sarah because she is a cornerstone of the organization, but also because she has been very supportive of me as an artist and as I undo generations of separation in my family from our Osage culture. In Choctaw tradition, Sarah wears a narrow collar layered on top of a wider collar as part of her regalia, but the collars can also be worn over any clothing. The composition was designed so that there is one print on each side of the fabric, and they are in alignment with how Sarah wears the collars. I’m just getting started and looking forward to creating more work that reflects the individuality of each person.
The Hope Flags hanging at 21c were created in the same fashion—designed to be a reflection of the garden and the gardener. I would spend time in their garden or talking with the person and then create the composition based on what I had learned about them. The backside of each flag contains a quote provided by the gardener.
I’m also working on a large-scale collaborative public art project. We are creating a ceramic mural for the Willa D. Johnson Recreation Center under construction here in Oklahoma City. Aside from cutting out what feels like a million tiles for the main illustration, I’m also creating a series of carved botanical tiles for the mural. I’m carving images of pollinator support plants into round tiles. These include plants native to Oklahoma that are vital to the wellness of our pollinators and connects with an overall butterfly theme of the mural but is also a nod to Indigenous agricultural practices and land stewardship. We’ll be installing the mural at the end of this calendar year.
I’m also working to make time for experimentation and play in my practice. I’ve been exploring ways of altering some existing cyanotypes. I’ve gilded works with 24k gold leaf and, more recently, started beading as an enhancement. I’ve included an image of one I completed. I posted about this one on Instagram if you are interested in reading more about the story behind the work. Beading is very meditative, and I’m looking forward to spending more time with that work in the coming year, as some of my other commitments wind down.
Do you have any #protips or things you have learned in the past year that you would like to share with fellow artists?
JW: Trust yourself. In 2020 I was very prolific, and, while I’m still making in 2021, it’s not at the same pace. My spirit and creativity needed time to rest, and the first half of the year was given over to regeneration. I had to listen and give myself grace when I needed a break.
And be good to your physical self. There’s a lot of focus on mental wellness right now, and I’m grateful for that movement. But also, artists tend to disregard protecting themselves from toxic materials and processes, and that’s particularly problematic for a population that is often without health insurance.
What are you reading or watching or listening to that you would recommend to others?
JW: I’m watching Reservation Dogs on Hulu. The first two episodes were just recently released. Showrunner Sterlin Harjo (Seminole/Muscogee) is part of a growing movement in Hollywood to bring change to Native representation in mainstream films and series. So far, it’s hilarious and even more than I hoped for, and I’m excitedly awaiting more episodes.
Jarica Walsh is a graduate of The University of Oklahoma, receiving her BFA in Media Arts with an emphasis in Filmmaking. She is a multidisciplinary artist, motivated by the core principles of optimism, appreciation, and inclusion. Walsh is the Director of Art in Public Places for the Oklahoma Arts Council. She was born in Pawhuska of Osage and European heritage and is a proud member of the Osage Nation. She lives and works in Oklahoma City, maintaining a studio in the Paseo Arts District.
To learn more about Jarica’s work, please check out her website http://www.jaricawalsh.com/ or follow her on Instagram @jjarica. If you want to learn more about the Hope Flags project on view at 21c Oklahoma City, checkout @hopeflagsokc for more images.