Episode 1: Sarah Ahmad
Tulsa-based artist Sarah Ahmad has created "American Dream," an outdoor art installation for the Greenwood Art Project to promote racial healing in the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre. It combines historic images from 1921 with new marigold garlands created in Pakistan, where Sarah grew up. To see it, visitors must walk through the forest -- a place, Sarah says, that everyone belongs.
They have to walk through the forest. So the first experience
is, uh, the sights sounds and smells of nature.
Next on Gallery America, we go outdoors. We'll see how one
Tulsa artist is using a forest to make art for healing.
The experience of forest bathing, which just activates
renewal and healing.
I've put large-scale pieces for anywhere from a year to two
years in about 25 communities in the state of Florida alone, and
a Florida artist is finding the outdoors is adding its own touch
to his sculptures.
It turned into a giant chia pet. Vines had grown all through it.
I'm always open to, you know, how the art evolves
And we meet a Cincinnati artist who made the hall of fame by
adding pin stripes to cars.
I try to be receptive and I try to pay attention to things. I
also try to do things for instance, that have not been
done. I try to give people more than they expect simply because
I've been doing it this long. And if not now, then when?
Hello, Oklahoma, I'm Robert Reid. Welcome to Gallery
America. The show that gets you behind the scenes and into the
creative minds of great artists in Oklahoma and around the
nation. It's great being outdoors, isn't it? And a forest
like this kind of makes you wonder if a walk in the woods
can be art too. Well, the first artist we're meeting today think
so. Sarah Ahmad is a Pakistan-American artist who
came to Oklahoma a few years ago as part of the Tulsa Artist
Fellowship program. This initiative has brought dozens of
painters, poets, videographers, writers, to live and work in
Tulsa. Once here, Sarah found herself almost immediately
immersed in her new neighborhood of Greenwood and was invited to
partake in the Greenwood Art Project that works to educate
the public about the Tulsa Race Massacre in 1921, and
recultivate that community through the power of art. Now,
Sarah is an installation artist, meaning that she often does big
three-dimensional installation pieces with a gallery space in
mind, but for this piece, as you'll see, she felt it had to
be outdoors. Have a look.
They have to walk through the forest.
So the first experiences, uh, the sights, sounds and smells of
nature, the experience of forest bathing, which just activates
renewal and healing.
I'm a visual artist based in Tulsa. I
grew up in Lahore, Pakistan. I moved here, um, in 1995, I lived
in Tennessee for almost 20 years. I moved here in January
2019 for the fellowship. And this is my third year. Everyone
was saying, you are going to the backwaters of the art world and
Oklahoma instead of like California or New York, but it
turned out to be, uh, this pocket of this very progressive
community in, in the heart of Tulsa. And what's happening in
Tulsa is almost like an arts Renaissance.
When I came, when I joined the fellowship, uh, that is when I
learned that, uh, we are living and working on the side of the
massacre. I wanted to learn more about the history, just to learn
about the perspectives of the community. I wasn't thinking
about, uh, doing an art project.
One of the stated goals of
Greenwood Art Project is to activate spaces through art, to
create a healing experience for the community. And that really
resonated with me because my that is the central theme of my
To approach this project. And, uh, just had doubts about
questions about this, not my story. And, uh, I shouldn't take
up space telling it or being a part of it. And, uh, after
working in it for so many months, it's now part of like,
my life has woven into it.
I was working on the project in
Pakistan, making the flowers, and then here, when my, uh, dad
passed away in Lahore. And the city at that time was covered
with marigold flowers in full bloom while I was making these -
hundreds of thousands, tens of thousands, of flowers here. And
so it's become a personal memorial for me. So I'm using
about 50,000 flowers. They were all made in Pakistan. Many of
them were handcrafted by women in villages through Kaarvan
Craft Foundation that facilitates, uh, you know, this
work. The women in the villages who handcrafted the flowers
wanted to contribute to it and connected with it just as much
as their own story. They were so invested in it and wanting to
see what comes out of it and, uh, connected with it.
a lot of questions, about people's feedback that, you
know, no one goes out to Oxley or that's so far away! But
people do come out to Oxley. But I think it's the idea is to
bring people out, to experience it in a meditative way. And to
create a space, a sacred space, for healing and collective
They everyone tents, you know to live in. That's what they were
supposed to live in. We stayed in those camps, I imagine, five
or six months.
I think that you walk into the tent because that is the
centerpiece. And it's in this huge clearing. Inside the tent,
it's really dark. And, uh, you are surrounded, immersed in
these images of burnt and fallen homes above you like eye-level
and below. And the tent is this pyramid shape. So it feels like
a burial chamber. You'll see, on this massive scale, um, the
destruction of the Greenwood community that is woven together
with hundreds of pictures. But from the darkness of the tent,
you move out, uh, into this, uh, beautiful setting of the forest
that is, uh, you know, full of light.
My hope is that, uh, it
will be a contemplative meditative experience that will
activate, um, you know, the feeling of wellbeing. I think as
an immigrant, you belong in many places, but you don't fully
belong in any one place. And my deepest sense of belonging is in
nature, nature-immersion experiences.
It's a space where everyone belongs.
Sarah's American Dream is meant to promote racial healing, but
shortly after its completion, it was damaged when several
arrangements were torn apart, others stolen. This ugly act of
vandalism cannot take away the message of Sarah's art. In fact,
it only shows how important work like hers still is. You can see
more of Sarah's art by visiting her website, Sarahahmad.com, or
follow her on Instagram at Sarah_Ahmad_Art.
One of the
things I enjoyed about spending time with Sarah on this was
seeing her just walk in the woods. I mean, she looks at
every fallen limb and leaf or sunlight shimmering on the
water, like a brushstroke from an impressionist painting. Kind
of makes you want to get outside and see the nature of Oklahoma,
like an artist. And the fact that she got Pakistan villagers
to create the marigolds for this installation, half away across
the globe, back in Tulsa. Amazing. Next, we'll stay
outdoors. This artist in Key West, Florida creates unique
outdoor sculptures that are now part of a public-arts exchange
program that goes nationwide. Meet Craig Gray.
My name is Craig Gray and I'm a sculptor here
in Stock Island, Florida.
For about 15 years. I carved gravestones. I did granite
countertops and then I also carved other artists sculptures.
And so that's how I kind of backed into the arts. Then I got
inspiration and, uh, decided to pursue my own work. I had a
residency at the studios of Key West, a great organization, six
years ago, and then six months later, my family and I moved to
North. I was primarily a stone carver and I did a little bit of
metal work. And then I came down here and the only stone
available was coral rock, which doesn't lend itself very well to
carving. That's a very soft stone, not durable over the long
term. So I started searching for another medium and in South
Florida, the exteriors of buildings are stucco. So this
piece is set of orange slices. I haven't finished painting the
yellow yet. And usually I define it some, um, it's a hollow it's
made of masonary backer board metal lath and stucco. And then
I carved the stucco to give the, the slices definition. This is
one of the pieces that's up in Jacksonville, Florida. The
highway into creating public art, which I specifically moved
to Florida, is there is close to a hundred public art programs,
all shapes and sizes, all different types of communities.
And the great thing about Florida and a few other states
is they lease art. This is a set of candy hearts. This one here
I'm I'm refurbing. It was out on display in Hyattsville, Maryland
for about two years, winter environment. And then when I
brought it down here, brought it back home. I brought it back in
December and the frost heaves, which we don't have in Florida,
beat it really bad. So I'm recovering it again with a
second layer of metal lath, which you can see here and then
I've put large-scale pieces for anywhere from a year to two
years in about 25 communities in the state of Florida alone. And
that kind of started me on that path. And then you get the piece
back. So then again, you can lease it out again. And from
Florida, that kind of acted as a springboard. So then I went to
Chicago, I went to Jackson, Wyoming, all these places. Right
now I have 22 large-scale pieces of art around the United States.
It's a great program where a lot of communities are a bit
uncomfortable. You know, they, they want to feel out the waters
basically and say, is this going to be something that people are
gonna like? And a lot of the public art calls that I do,
they're looking for a temporary installation of sometimes a year
to two years, and then I can come back and do touch up work
if somebody tagged it or something like that. A lot of
cities are, are bringing in pieces.
They'll display them for a limited amount of time. They may
move them around within the city, and then they come off
display. They're trying to keep it fresh. This one just came off
display from Rosemary Beach out on the panhandle of Florida.
It's kind of a fun piece because, you know, you can, you
can reach through it. A lot of this rebar, this steel ,was
salvaged off of Route 1 at the last installation. When I came
and picked it up, there were probably a dozen locks on it.
I'm only guessing that people had made some promises and
decided instead of locking to a bridge, they locked to my
sculpture, which was kind of fun, you know? And then I had
another town and it was in a kind of a green space. It turned
into a giant chia pet. Vines had grown all through it.
I'm always open to, you know, how the art evolves. The great
advantage of working in South Florida, here on Stock Island,
is the fact that I can work outside. The cement dries within
a couple of days. I could have never done this if I was working
up north, I mean, it would take a week and I'd have to have it
inside a heated building. If you're driving by, which is the
fun thing about this large-scale artwork, you'll notice
immediately the shape and you'll be like, oh, I know what that
is. But then as you come up closer, you'll see that there's
still kind of a texture to it. Um, it's, it's a little bit on
the abstract edge.
I get selfies daily of somebody standing up in Kalamazoo,
Michigan shivering in the cold next to a set of popsicles. I
mean, I had one outside Baltimore in Hyattsville,
Maryland, a set of giant candy hearts. And I have tons of
pictures of these kids hugging candy hearts. I mean, that's a
little bit of a political piece. I made that after the election
and it says, I love you and embrace, but it's subtle. I
usually don't do political pieces. I just do friendly art.
You get a pretty good decent group of tourists coming down
here, specifically for the arts. They're already interested in
the arts. They're interested in culture and they're open to
that. It's cultural tourism, which is really nice. I have
people just randomly stop by who see our little sign out beside
the road. I love it.
Finally, we go to Cincinnati to meet a local artist who has a
distinct nickname he earns from his artwork, which is to turn
cars into the ultimate road trip machines through his
When I was a preteen, there was a point where I quit buying
comic books and started buying car magazines. I was fascinated
by the designs and eventually I found a magazine that showed
Dean Jeffries doing some pinstriping on an old car. And
he had a striping brush in his hand. I got on my bike, pedaled
down to the Sherwin Williams store. Back wall had striping
brushes. So I bought the smallest brush that would fit my
hand and it helped me learn how to do skinny lines.
Hi, I'm Jim 'Dauber' Farr. I'm a pinstriper, guilder, commercial
artist, graphic artist. Happy to be here. There was a, an
occasion, uh, when I was at the art museum viewing the, uh, show
'Women of Egypt.' And at the end of the show, there were two
caskets encased in plexiglass. And there was pinstriping on
these caskets. I knelt down to look at them. And I couldn't
resist drawing my hand across the plastic, imagining what that
would, would have felt like with a brush in my hand. And when I
drew the brush back like that, there was a thunder boomer
overhead, and the lights went out and I had my hand there. I
looked up at my friends who were standing there and it took my
hand away. And some, for some reason, the lights came back on
and it just sort of seemed to be somewhat karmic. If you take my
Dauber came into my life when I was working in my, uh, partners
shop, Bill Rell, over in Covington. We worked together
for almost 10 years and there was a guy from the west side of
town who came in and was watching me letter. And the
lighting was very inadequate and I kept wiping paint off on my
shirt cause I couldn't get it the way I wanted on the car. And
this, uh, gentleman was standing there looking at me doing that.
And he says, this guy daubs more than he paints. We ought to call
him 'Dauber.' Within a week, the concrete had dried and I had no
choice in the matter.
I actually am pinstriping in gold leaf. And not too many
people do that. You mix a sizing, a glue, which is
commonly known as a sizing and you mix glue and usually some
color with that. So you have an image of what you're actually
putting down and you let it dry a certain amount of time,
depending on the weather and the thunder and lightning, and also
the, uh, the humidity and whatnot. And once it's ready,
it's ready. And if you don't pay attention to the clock, you can
find yourself having wasted some time and possibly material. And,
um, it's entertaining sometimes, but also challenging. You've got
to pay attention to detail. Simple as that. Gold leaf has a
tradition and a history that goes back centuries, literally
centuries. Uh, the Egyptians were doing it and possibly
further back than that, it was came into vogue again during the
Renaissance, actually prior to the Renaissance and so forth,
subsequently in churches and things of that nature began
On picture frames and, uh, uh, things like that. I know of
maybe five or six other stripers, nationally, that do
pinstriping and gold leaf on the streets. There may be more, but
I'm unaware of it. Where do I get inspiration from?
Everywhere. I'm blessed with powers of observation and I try
to be receptive and I try to pay attention to things. I also try
to do things for instance, that have not been done. I try to
give people more than they expect simply because I've been
doing it this long. And if not now then when? there was a very
humbling experience in 2006, for me and for Bill, he was
contacted and was told that the National Hot-Rodding
Association was going to nominate him for induction in
the Drag Racing Hall of Fame. He said, I won't do it unless you
also incorporate Dauber in that.
And it was a humbling thing, standing up a bunch in front of
a bunch of people in a crowd situation, thanking them. It
didn't make a lot of sense to me until I realized there were no
other artists in the Drag Racing Hall of Fame at that point. It
was a situation and still is. I've done a quite wide variety
of work for folks, including the museum center, the fire museum,
multiple radio stations, the Cincinnati Zoo, clients
involving race cars, hot rods, motorcycles, all over town.
Everything you see around in behind me and everything that I
do is original and it's hand done. I do not use a computer
for my art. I do not do anything in vinyl. Everything I do is
done the original way, the right way. I like the smell of paint.
I like to feel of brushes in my hands.
I want to do it right or not at all. Pinstriping is sort of a
Zen thing for me. You gotta be in a good frame of mind. I do
yoga. I do meditation twice a day and it gives me a good frame
of mind. It keeps me calm. You can't do pinstriping without
having brush control. You don't have brush control unless you've
got some control up here. And in here it's logical. I tend to
look at a naked panel and I can imagine, you know, things
growing out like a blooming flower and God-willing it'll
bloom, wherever the brush is pulled up.
My grandmother was the first one to encourage me to do art. Art
is not as easy as it might seem. There are a lot of people that
you just put a coin in a slot and out pops art. It doesn't
work that way. You've got to think, you've gotta be
versatile. You've gotta be diverse. You've gotta be
quality. If you've gotta be all of those things and you better
know how to market yourself to a certain extent, I am grateful to
have work and I'm grateful to be doing art art for me, uh, is,
uh, a long-term deal. I am very grateful to be able to work with
young artists, young stripers, and so forth because there was
no one around to teach me anything. I am completely
self-taught. I'm frequently asked. Don't you think that's a
dying art? Uh, no. I think thanks to the internet and the
web, there are probably more people pinstriping worldwide
than any other time in history.
Well, that's it for Gallery America this time. Be sure to
see past episodes of Gallery America by visiting our website
at oeta.tv/galleryamerica. And for dozens of additional
features of Oklahoma artists go to Gallery America Online on
Instagram at @oetagallery. There you'll find features on other
Tulsa artists, fellows like Sarah, including Rachel Hayes,
who does tapestry. artist Joel Daniel Phillips who turns
WPA-era photos into realistic drawings with his pencil, and
Olivia Stephens, a graphic novelists from the Pacific
Northwest. Thank you so much for watching. I'm Robert Reid. And
until next time, stay arty Oklahoma.
Be sure to watch 'Tulsa Race Massacre: 100 Years Later'
special. It features conversations with historians
and survivors from the tragic 1921 event, as well as features
on artists who are part of the ongoing Greenwood Art Project.
You can stream it online by visiting