Drums of Sovereignty

Brent Greenwood

Drums of Sovereignty was commissioned specially for the Oklahoma Judicial Center. It evokes the spirit of the opening ceremonies of The Sovereignty Symposium, an annual event sponsored by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma. The Symposium provides a forum for tribal leaders and state officials to discuss common legal issues in a scholarly, non-adversarial environment. The Supreme Court espouses no view on any of the issues, and the positions taken by the participants are not endorsed by the Supreme Court of Oklahoma.

The foreground of the piece features singers who sing traditional southern songs during the ceremony. The four horses and the figures behind them represent Gray Horse, comprised of members of the Kiowa Tribe, primarily the Anquoe family. They were the original singers for the first Sovereignty Symposium in 1987, and for many years after. The silhouetted figure in traditional headdress on the left is Gordon Yellowman, a Cheyenne Chief who offers prayers for all who attend The Symposium, and the tribal leader is Governor Bill Anoutubby of the Chickasaw Nation. The figures on the left represent the Southern Nation Singers, a group chaired by Brent Greenwood, who is depicted as the central figure in the turquoise shirt. On the right are the Kiowa Black Leggings Society who ceremonially present the United States flag and Oklahoma flag. Following them are tribal leaders from across the state, each carrying the flag of their individual tribe.

A distinctive feature of Brent Greenwood’s work is that he leaves the faces of people blank. He says this allows the viewer to imagine who the people are and become more actively engaged in the piece. “These people represent all the Native people in Oklahoma who strive to honor and protect tribal sovereignty.”

Greenwood is a member of the Chickasaw and Ponca Nations of Oklahoma. He became interested in art at a young age and has been drawing all his life. Greenwood began his formal art study at the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he earned an associate of fine arts in two-dimensional art in 1994. He continued his training with a bachelor of fine arts from Oklahoma City University in 1997.

Greenwood said his work has been inspired by other Oklahoma artists, including Bert Seabourn. He works primarily with acrylics and mixed media. His art blends traditional themes with a modern style. “I try to create depth and emotion in my work by the various layers of paint, washes, drips and splatters that I apply to the canvas. In much of my work, I incorporate early tribal history and bring certain elements of designs and pieces of this period back to life through my paintings.”

The Chickasaw Nation selected Greenwood as its 2011 Music Festival’s featured artist. He is also an accomplished musician, singing Ponca songs at dances and in church. Greenwood’s design work graces the cover of the 2010 Oklahoma Native Tourism Guide. In 2008, Brent and his wife, Kennetha, were honored as Indian Parents of the Year by the Oklahoma Council for Indian Education.

Source: Artist provided biography; “Native American Heritage, Contemporary Arts,” The Oklahoman’s Newspapers in Education feature, Spring 2012.