Around 2:20 a.m. on March 6 in downtown Tulsa, 13 shots were fired at the Dennis R. Neill Equality Center. The pellets didn’t penetrate the reinforced glass windows, but their imprints “are the latest reminder of the deep-seated hatred some individuals have towards the LGBTQ community,” Geoffrey Brewster, Oklahomans for Equality (OkEq) board president, said in a statement.
In response to the hate act, artist Mallory Taylor (Osage, Cherokee, Blackfoot, Crow, Black Dutch and Irish descent) is donating her time to paint a mural on the Equality Center’s building side in support of love.
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Her street-side work-in-progress currently shows L-O-V-E spelled with hands, crowned with a butterfly over the “O.” A rainbow of feathers fans out by the “e” in red, orange, yellow, green, blue and purple, representing the diversity of Oklahoma as well as the LGBTQ community.
“I did a design that spells out L-O-V-E, because equality among races, gender, sexual orientation, whatever, is important to me as a person,” Taylor says. “I wanted it to be as universal as possible.”
Taylor even adapted her original design to assuage concerns about whether or not the letters were intended to spell L-O-V-E in sign language. “I have a degree in speech language pathology and audiology. I originally wanted it to be recognizable to everyone,” she says of her first design that resembled an “E” with three fingers. She later changed the “E” to resemble an American Sign Language “e.”
Overall, Taylor has received an outpouring of appreciation from passersby and her online fans. “The message is equality and unity in a state that prides itself on being unified. We’ve been through storms and tornadoes and earthquakes. We’re Oklahoma strong, and Oklahoma proud. So many people have even stopped me and said, ‘Can I give you a hug? I just want to thank you,’” Taylor says.
Weather and other circumstances permitting, the Broken Arrow and Tulsa native plans to complete her labor of love within a few weeks — in advance of the 35th annual Tulsa Pride festival and parade, taking place Saturday, June 3. Practical hurdles are what slow her down. “It’s very taxing on my hands,” she says.
After all, it’s only her second mural ever, and second time working with spray paint on a large scale.
Taylor painted her first mural last year on the side of Hey Mambo, an Italian restaurant in the Brady Arts District of Tulsa. Her 100-foot, colorful masterpiece, dedicated to Native American women in Oklahoma and breast cancer, features 39 butterflies representing the state’s 39 federally recognized tribes, as well as breast cancer ribbons, and “all kinds of Oklahoma facts hidden in the mural” — like the shape of the State of Oklahoma reflected in the eye of a woman, who is painted in blues, purples and pinks, “so she’s not any race, she’s a mixture of colors,” Taylor says.
She honed her skills by watching several celebrated street artists, including Steven Grounds, Navajo, Euchee, Muscogee (Creek) and Seminole, from El Reno, Oklahoma. “He’s definitely the best spray paint artist I have ever seen, hands-down, and I’ve had the pleasure of working with him and collaborating with him on several pieces – one that’s in the Creek Nation Museum.” (Native Evolution is a documentary short about Grounds, who goes by the moniker Native Evolution, and his transition into the street art scene.)
“He told me I would get addicted. I said, ‘No way, I’ll never spray paint!’ And now, here I am,” Taylor says.
Creating her artwork over time on a public canvas is both exhilarating and intimidating, she says. “Usually I paint in the studio with a paint brush, and I take the finished product to the gallery when I’m ready. This is like standing naked downtown for as long as it takes you to finish the mural. You have no way to hide it throughout the process,” Taylor says.
Instead of clinging to fear, she embraces the exposure and vulnerability. Plus, the mural’s gradual evolution is an inclusive experience for the community and her social media followers. “I like people to feel like they’re a part of the process,” Taylor says.
Much of Taylor’s art is inspired by Native American tradition and the resilience of women. “I think women are so strong. A lot of my pieces show women’s backs — like their shawl falling off their shoulders, or they’re wrapped in a Pendleton blanket and you can see their back. It’s because I believe there’s nothing stronger in the world than a woman’s back,” Taylor says.
Check back with Indian Country Media Network for a feature on Mallory Taylor next week.