Crystal Z Campbell: Lines of Sight

February 8, 2023-January 7, 2024
Media Arts Watch Gallery

Crystal Z Campbell’s multidisciplinary art practice centers on “public secrets”—stories known by many but rarely told. Lines of Sight illuminates the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, when white mobs attacked and killed hundreds of Black residents, destroying over 35 city blocks of the predominantly Black Greenwood district (a.k.a. Black Wall Street) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. However, rather than images of the massacre, this immersive exhibition offers an alternative narrative revealing Black communities that thrived despite the massacre.

In the film Flight, archival footage by the Black amateur filmmaker Solomon Sir Jones, who documented thriving Black communities in Oklahoma from the mid 1920s on, is punctuated by the Gap Band’s hit song You Dropped a Bomb on Me. Campbell provides multiple points of entry, intentionally making the images difficult to perceive by using an “impossible” color combination of red and green hues.  

Three collages from the Notes from Black Wall Street series feature archival photographs depicting the rebuilding of Greenwood. The artist applied think paint to scar the images, their response to the deliberate erasure and silencing of these stories. With each artistic decision and gesture, Campbell employs various modes of making historical records legible or illegible, complicating how we as viewers perceive history.

About the Tulsa Race Massacre

In 1921, Greenwood, a neighborhood in Tulsa, Oklahoma, which at the time was one of the wealthiest Black communities in the United States, was destroyed by a violent White mob. The event, now called the Tulsa Race Massacre, is considered one of “the single worst incident[s] of racial violence in American history” and has been described as one of the deadliest terrorist attacks in the history of the United States.

Timeline of Events

Monday, May 30 1921

  • Dick Rowland, a 19-year-old Black shoe shiner, was accused of assaulting Sarah Page, a white 17-year-old elevator operator in the Drexel Building in downtown Tulsa.

Tuesday, May 31 1921

  • Rowland was arrested by police officers for the alleged offense and held in a jail cell in the Tulsa County Courthouse.
  • The Tulsa Tribune published an article with the headline “Nab Negro for Attacking Girl In an Elevator,” which caused great fear amongst members of Tulsa’s Black community that Rowland would be lynched by a White vigilante mob.
  • As a result of the article as well as rumors and misinformation spreading quickly across the city,  a crowd of angry White Tulsans, numbering over 1,000, gathered in front of the courthouse demanding that Rowland be turned over to them. Black Tulsans, who were determined to protect Rowland, also eventually gathered in front of the courthouse. The exact order and nature of events remains disputed, but as tensions heightened gunshots rang out, with both Black and White citizens killed that evening.

Wednesday, June 1 1921

  • At 1am, the white mob, which included civilians, police officers, and soldiers in the National Guard, began setting fire to businesses in Greenwood. At 5am, the mob began an all-out assault on the neighborhood. The mob looted Black-owned shops and homes and began to burn every building in Greenwood, including houses, churches, schools, businesses, a hospital and a library. Thousands of Black residents fled the scene of unthinkable violence and chaos, while nearly 4,000 others were abducted by the mob and forced to walk to detention centers around the city.
  • At 9:15am, Oklahoma National Guard troops arrived from Oklahoma City and by 12pm, the National Guard had managed to suppress most of the violence.


As a result of the massacre, approximately 10,000 Black people were left homeless and more than $2.25 million (equivalent to approximately $34.18 million today) worth of real estate and personal property was damaged or destroyed. The number of people who were murdered during this event remains contested with estimates as low as 75 and as high as 300.

Who is accountable for such racially motivated destruction, and who might be accountable for reparations, for healing, for the absence of this narrative in public memory?

Crystal Z. Campbell

About the Artist

Photograph of Crystal Z Campbell

Crystal Z Campbell is a multidisciplinary artist, experimental filmmaker, and writer of Black, Filipinx, and Chinese descent. Campbell finds complexity in public secrets—fragments of information known by many but undertold or unspoken. Campbell’s works use underloved archival material to consider historical gaps in the narrative of the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, revisit questions of immortality and medical ethics with Henrietta Lacks’ “immortal” cell line, and salvage a 35mm film from a demolished Black activist theater in Brooklyn as a relic of gentrification. 

Select honors include a 2022 Creative Capital award, Guggenheim Fellowship in Fine Arts, Harvard Radcliffe Fellowship, Pollock-Krasner Award, MAP Fund, MacDowell, Skowhegan, Rijksakademie, Whitney ISP, and Franklin Furnace Award. Exhibitions and screenings include SFMOMA, Drawing Center, ICA-Philadelphia, REDCAT, Artissima, Studio Museum of Harlem, Project Row Houses, SculptureCenter, Cinemigrante, EMPAC, and DocLisboa. Campbell was a featured filmmaker at the 67th Flaherty Film Seminar, and their film, REVOLVER, received the Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival. Campbell is currently a Visiting Associate Professor in Art and Media Study at the University at Buffalo and lives in New York and Oklahoma.