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Why so serious?

American Indian artists poke fun at issues and themselves in the annual 'Humor Without Reservations' exhibition.

Rod Lott April 11th, 2012

Humor Without Reservations
through May 1
Tribes 131
131 24th Ave. N.W., Norman

Think about it: Did Tonto ever smile?

Throughout history, popular culture largely has painted the American Indian as humorless. Take the man who shed a single tear in 1971’s iconic “Keep America Beautiful” anti-litter campaign; the stoic, silent Will Sampson in the film One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest; even the famous 1887 photograph of Geronimo bearing a rifle ... and a deep frown.

For four years, Tribes 131 in Norman has combated this perception with its annual Humor Without Reservations exhibition, which has grown to be a community favorite; the fifth installment is now on display through May 1.

According to Leslie Rae Zinbi, Tribes 131 owner, the idea began with artist Benjamin Harjo Jr.

“We were chatting about show ideas,” Zinbi said, “and he suggested a humor show, an idea that had not been tapped into. He thought it would be wonderful to have artists put humor into their artwork and not be so serious all the time.”

Of more than 20 artists featured, none was given guidelines or restrictions. As a result, she said visitors will see a variety of pieces, some self-parodying, some cutting-edge. They include takes on historical masterpieces and everyday life; even a bead artist and potter participated. The common  thread, of course, is laughter.

“Laughter is a wonderful thing — something we need more of,” Zinbi said, noting it makes Humor Without Reservations more accessible to the public than the gallery’s other exhibits. “If the artists can take issues and or subjects and turn them into humorous works of art that bring people together in laughter, how can that be bad?”

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