A Path of Purpose
Kalyn Fay Barnoski is constantly weaving and going.
Weaving colorful printed paper into 2-D wall works based on Cherokee basket patterns. Weaving vulnerable lyrics with melodies inspired by the local land. Weaving together personal, artistic endeavors with their professional, institutional 9-5.
Always going because their multitude of undeniable gifts paired with their purpose necessitate it.
A multidisciplinary visual artist. A performing singer and songwriter. An assistant curator of Native Art at the Philbrook Museum of Art. Kalyn is an individual living a life of multiplicity at all times to serve their practices without sacrifice of any in a permanent hierarchy.
“I don't have to just be a musician,” Kalyn tells ASLUT. “I can be a musician and songwriter who lets sound influence the way she or they curate artworks, or the rhythm of music influences the way I do a weaving. It's constantly interwoven for me, and I think it comes from being a Cherokee and Muscogee person.”
The path to this point didn’t start heading toward the arts. The sounds of the various instruments Kalyn learned to play were a soundtrack to their youth in a family without other musicians. Still, becoming a doctor was always the destination.
Until it wasn’t. During a shadow opportunity at Cancer Treatment Centers of America, Kalyn saw a new way forward inspired by volunteering artists.
“That's so cool that I don't have to be a doctor to help people feel better or to feel fulfilled in really hard moments,” Kalyn recalls how she felt. “I can use art to do that.”
Kalyn started playing guitar around age 20/21, but it would take two more years for them to begin finding a commanding voice through songwriting and singing.
“As creative people, I feel the things we make aren't just for ourselves, they're also to build those connections with people,” Kalyn explains to ASLUT. “And at that time when I started writing and wanting to perform, it was really this need to connect with people in a different way.”
Unafraid to pour themselves into an album, Kalyn’s Americana/folk songs are personal and speak to the listeners when they need it, regardless of the time since release.
“I feel the music I write is really for people to slow down, take a moment to be introspective, and reflect on their own experiences,” Kalyn says. “They don't have to share the same exact experience I had. It's just more about facilitating that time and space for people to do the same.”
Beyond the raw human experiences archived in her songwriting, her music is grounded in the land. Melodies based on horizon lines and seasonal details planted among the lyrics are common to Kalyn’s style.
“They're probably not super present to everybody,” Kalyn says. “But the frameworks are very much so around a native [and] indigenous way of thinking about the world.”
Now in fewer bars, their performances happen more in museums and art spaces. Intentional crossover as an organic avenue for them to both play and research.
Tulsa and this time have become an intersection of it all, instead of a crossroads for Kalyn. A meeting point of their heritage and artistic opportunity.
“I have the freedom to not have to explain my experience and the freedom to not have to like anthropologize my experience as a native person [all the time] here,” Kalyn explains. “I have the freedom to just make and do, and it makes it free here in a different way than other places where I'd have to explain everything.”
Allowing Kalyn to focus on creation over explanation. And focus on the core of her practice, which is the idea of Seven Generations. Honoring both seven generations in the past and in the future with their actions in the present.
“So I think constantly about as a native person, how do I build good pathways for people, how do I honor my ancestors,” Kalyn says. “For me it’s doing a multiplicity of practices and holding that space.”
Through the process of completing a third album, planned for a fall release, Kalyn has created paid creative work for more native and queer artists. First Peoples Fund and Native Arts and Culture Fund have helped make the album possible.
“I think that's the part about when you are really invested and holding certain understandings and being a certain way, that's just the community you're going to foster without being super intentional,” Kalyn says. “If you're intentional about the values you hold, your communities reflect that. And, so, no, it wasn't super intentional, but I'm really thankful they are my community.”
Through their newest professional capacity as assistant curator, Kalyn is creating space for other native artists and those following their own paths. Their background in studio art is typically an exception among the art history and museum studies degrees common in the field.
“I feel like there's a way in which we can communicate with each other that's different than if it was not a native person holding that space of power,” they say. “I am hopeful that this empowers more artists and more musicians to take up space in institutions.”