A wayfaring painter shares eight years of her experiences on three continents through portraiture in her first solo art exhibition, Legacy … Oklahoma & Beyond, currently on display at Urban Roots cafe in the Deep Deuce district.
Ebony Iman Dallas’ exhibition highlights 11 influential figures in her life, from a local mother, a civil rights activist and a breast cancer victim to the internationally known faces of U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
After graduating from the University of Central Oklahoma in 2003, Dallas didn’t pick up a paintbrush for nearly three years, but that time away from home exposed the Oklahoma City native to different stories and the faces that went with them, she said.
She began painting portraits of her personal inspirations, beginning with Bob Marley in 2007.
“I don’t feel that the collection is finished,” Dallas said. “I think of it more as an evolution. But, it’s enough to put on the walls right now.”
The walls of Urban Roots create a space where “food and art intersect,” said founder and head chef Chaya Fletcher, who has known Dallas since high school.
The two reconnected after Dallas returned to OKC a year ago. In March, she painted a large mural covering Urban Roots’ bar.
“Her art is always about someone else,” Fletcher said. “It just speaks to community and how she has been influenced by so many different people.”
Dallas has gained several communities throughout the last eight years of her art career working in California, England, Egypt and Somalia.
“I am where I am, and a lot of my art follows,” she said.
She remains rooted to OKC through her membership of the Oklahoma Arts Council’s Leadership Arts program, but her leadership in the arts also runs deep in Somalia, where she has lived off and on since founding the Afrikanation Artists Organization in 2010.
The nonprofit group preserves and supports Somali art culture through international efforts collecting and shipping art supplies and running an after-school program for children.
“I was inspired by the way the people in Somalia work with what they have,” Dallas said. “Before, I was very much a perfectionist as an artist.”
Taking inspiration from the Somali arts culture, she paints with one line at a time to determine the next, and doesn’t allow herself to erase. She said this approach lets her portraits look less like a duplicate of a photograph to reveal a truer, more personal depiction of the person.
“If it’s what I would have considered a mistake before, I continued with it [to make it] into something I would have never imagined,” Dallas said.
She already has future portraits in mind, including Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old Pakistani girl shot by the Taliban last October for promoting girls’ education.