Fri. May 31st, 2024

TULSA, Okla. — What would you do if you thought it was your last day?

Philadelphia-based artist Lex Brown asks this question time and time again in her hour-long science-fiction musical Carnelian (2023), a film following three mythical characters —Necyria, Orachrysops, and Bicyclus — over the course of one day as they anxiously prepare for an impending unknown catastrophe they refer to as “the Boom.” Through eight songs written by Brown and co-composed by Samuel Beebe, the trio grapples with the complexities of institutional power structures embedded in politics, the environment, social dynamics, and technology.

The film made its theatrical debut at Tulsa’s Circle Cinema on Thursday, April 4 on the first night of Sovereign Futures, a four-day arts and culture symposium organized by curator Allison Glenn. The symposium delved into Oklahoma’s Afro-Indigenous history across multiple sites in and around Tulsa, a region still contending with its violent history of genocide, displacement, and terror against its Native American and Black communities.

“This screening brought together a lot of different threads,” Brown told Hyperallergic, adding that while the film was made from a host of experiences including the COVID-19 quarantine, Tulsa held a special significance, given her familial ties to the region. On both sides of her family, Brown is related to survivors of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre — one of the worst racial terror attacks in United States history during which White mobs attacked and killed hundreds of Black residents living in Tulsa’s Greenwood District, a neighborhood where the city’s entire African-American community resided at the time as a result of Jim Crow segregation laws.

“There were just different waves of personal history, locational history, family history, and artistic history that were all rolling and intermingling with each other,” Brown explained.

Each character embodies a specific natural archetype. Necyria, who represents fire, is portrayed as a recumbent, passive individual, lethargically resting on a couch while her counterpart Bicyclus, symbolizing air, periodically disappears while toying with a peculiar instrument known as a chronometer. Opposite these two forces, Orachrysops, who represents Earth, is depicted as stubborn and materialistic, obsessed with someone (or something) known as the “Great Leader” and a conspiracy theory program called Omnesia Radio.

Carnelian was first presented a year ago as a multichannel video installation at Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s List Visual Arts Center. Later, it was adapted as a 40-minute live production accompanied by a full jazz band that debuted at Philadelphia’s Fringe Festival in September. 

Brown, who is already working on her next project (an opera), explained that she hopes she will have more opportunities to present the work going forward.

She also wants to return to the city in the next few months to visit the rodeo in Boley, one of the remaining all-Black towns of Oklahoma that are located about an hour’s drive from the city.

“I think in the same way that Tulsa as a place brings together so many complex, unresolved histories, there was an interesting counter theme for me personally running through the weekend,” she said.

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