Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, AR invited Tulsa-based Indigenous painter Yatika Starr Fields to create a mural as part of the exhibition, “Art for a New Understanding: Native Voices, 1950s to Now.” It’s good they did. Not only does its addition cause passersby to see art in an everyday, communal, setting, but it encourages them to think about their place within that community and larger ones.
Fields’ “Astonishment of Perception” is a bright piece full of movement. It depicts an enormous Lady Justice with her typical sword and scales, plus ribbons of flowy fabric and porcupine quills and a pocket watch. “Astonishment” covers an entire street-facing side of the two-story Cripps Law Firm building (101 E. 2nd St.), which belongs to a family that has been practicing law since the late 1800’s. But the portrait of Justice is not what one is used to seeing. Here, she is no longer blind or blindfolded. Instead, Fields created Justice looking out from underneath her blindfold, watching.
“I was responding to a few histories,” Fields told me in an interview. “I’m paying respect to [the law practice], but also nodding at the injustices plaguing the country.”
Fields’ Justice glares toward the downtown square where a statue of a generic male Confederate soldier stands in memoriam to all Confederate soldiers. In the past three years this square has been home to Black Lives Matter marches, the March for Our Lives, and the Women’s March, among others. To live in America often, if not daily, means to grapple with how race and gender are lived. We need artists like Fields to remind us to (and to remind Justice) to look. Of course, Fields’ deep-rootedness (he is Osage, Creek, and Cherokee) is instructive here.
The artist notes his heritage as a motivation for the mural: “Arkansas was an ancestral homelands to the Osage. The Creeks and Cherokees passed through this area [through removal] … my ancestry has travelled this path and laid down memory here. My being here is an extension of our resistance and perseverance.”
It’s a three-hour and forty-minute drive to Bentonville from Oklahoma City; it’s just over two hours from Tulsa. The mural took Fields ten 13-hour days to complete. However long it may take you to get to Bentonville, it’s worth a peak out from whatever blindfold you might be wearing.