Art Looks

Let your mind take ‘a darling walk’ through Creativity Explored’s latest

Jose Campos, 'Untitled,' 2018-2019, at Creativity Explored

We’re more than halfway into 2020, and yet, many of us are still adjusting to major changes in our daily routines. For some of us, that’s included skipping out on in-person exchanges and spending longer periods of time indoors. Luckily, the Bay Area visual arts scene still offers online opportunities to lift our spirits, all while broadening our minds.

Creativity Explored, the gallery and studio space that centers artists with disabilities, offers one such opportunity. Its most recent exhibit, “The Park ‘a darling walk for the mind,’” is a thought-provoking collection showcasing artists it’s worked with, 20 years past and present, which you can enjoy virtually through September 3.

In preserving the magic of the curatorial tradition, the collection was also physically installed in the Mission gallery space. Curator and visual arts instructor Ajit Chauhan selected pieces for the exhibit and describes the “mostly intuitive” act of choosing artworks as “not just something on the wall. It’s looking back at you, and there is a really powerful experience that feels completely external and internal at the same time.”

Bay Area painter Alicia McCarthy also added colorful markings to the show—on the walls and various surfaces—creating a kind of connective tissue between images. The storefront window on 16th street offers locals a safe, socially-distanced glimpse at selected pieces, perhaps even while taking a “darling walk” through the neighborhood.

Alicia McCarthy’s colorful wall markings provide a connective tissue in the exhibition

The exhibit begins by inviting viewers to embrace a poem by Lorine Niedecker, which describes the surprise of “a sense of starling musings.” Niedecker’s text evokes a change in perspective, a nod to any artist’s unique gift of paying close attention. Next, we are drawn into an often abstract, intimate visual landscape, a “mixtape made for a friend,” featuring visits from Walter Kresnik’s white cat to Claus Groeger’s optic bursts, a flurry of shapes and colors. Viewers may be drawn towards the personally introspective “circus” penned by James Miles or Mary Belknap’s series of intricately framed windows.

Claus Groeger, “Untitled,” 2016
MaryBelknap, ‘Untitled (Ballpoint)’, 2010

“The Park ‘a darling walk for the mind’” also features works by Jose Campos, a beloved Creativity Explored artist from El Salvador who passed away last May. Campos worked with colored pencil, watercolor, and even sharpie, creating dense shapes, reminiscent of the muscular system. His images bring onlookers into both the body and psyche, reminding us that there is movement even in standing still.

If you’ve ever had the privilege of touring the Creativity Explored studio in the past then you know how much passion goes into cultivating the imaginative and liberatory atmosphere shared by artists and Visual Instructors alike. And as we adjust to online experiences, new avenues of growth are illuminating a path.

Lorine Niedecker’s poem, with makings by Alicia McCarthy

Art lovers, even teachers and parents, are invited to engage with “The Park ‘ a darling walk for the mind” and the important questions the exhibit asks, such as: “how great of a surprise can you tolerate” and “how small a surprise can you recognize?” (Don’t miss the Virtual Curator Talk and Exhibition Tour with Ajit Chauhan, which can be viewed on Creativity Explored’s YouTube channel and Instagram starting Thur/9.)

“THE PARK ‘A DARLING WALK FOR THE MIND’”
Through September 3, 2020
Creativity Explored, SF
See it online here (also installed for storefront viewing). 
More info about the show here

A display of belonging and hope in Chinatown (and on Instagram)

Christin Wong Yap's project 'Hopes for Chinatown' near Portsmouth Square

For the last few years, the Chinese Culture Center (CCC), has been working to democratize how art is experienced, says curator Hoi Leung. The Center opened a gallery in Chinatown called 41 Ross, started to project art onto buildings, and displays temporary exhibits on the bridge between the gallery and Portsmouth Square. 

“Chinatown is like a museum, but instead of looking at objects in the museum, it’s stories and people and history,” she said. 

That’s one reason that Leung feels Christine Wong Yap’s project Art, Culture, and Belonging in Chinatown is so important—it tells the stories of people in the community and the history of Chinatown.

“During COVID and Black Lives Matter, Christine as an artist has been really responsive to issues at hand,” Leung said. “With the stigmas around Chinatown and the virus itself, we’re thinking about how to bring the notions of belonging into the conversation.”

Christine Wong Yap’s Christine Wong Yap, “Place of Belonging: Sweetheart Cafe, Nominated by Hoi,” from her forthcoming comic book

Wong Yap partnered with CCC to ask people various questions about how they feel connected to Chinatown, in part to counter xenophobic narratives, Wong Yap says. Some of the things she is asking people to respond to include a poll on if they prefer milk tea or fruit tea, and Chinatown’s Grant Street or Stockton Street.

Other activities include sharing a photo of a written message about your relationship to Chinatown, making a video telling about a memory in the neighborhood, or marking a map of Chinatown with places that are special to you and why.

(As she explains on her website about the project, in a past piece about egg custard tarts and memories of a beloved grandmother she prompted participants with “Maybe you feel a connection to your culture when you enjoy a BBQ pork noodle soup, drink boba tea, or snack on green tea flavored Pocky. Perhaps the sound of lion dancing brings back memories of your childhood apartment. Do you express yourself through ink paintings, anime, or Dance Dance Revolution? Do you bond with friends by reminiscing about Cantonese operas, discussing pop stars, or learning about traditional medicine?)

The project was meant to open at 41 Ross in May, but due to COVID-19, it has instead been on CCC’s Instagram stories.  

Christine Wong Yap, “Art Culture & Belonging,” 2020, animation of a drawing in a forthcoming comic book based on real contributor’s stories of belonging.

Wong Yap, who now lives in Queens, spent years in the Bay Area, where she attended the California College of Arts, getting her BFA and MFA. She started exploring belonging after the 2016 election, when she felt many people were being told they didn’t belong here. 

She launched a project at the Sanitary Tortilla Factory in Albuquerque, New Mexico, asking people where they felt a sense of belonging, and then an expanded version at the Othering & Belonging Institute at UC Berkeley when she had a residency there. 

Not too surprisingly, with this project a lot of respondents said they feel connected through food and drink—remembering certain places they would go with family and friends and drink green tea and eat egg tarts or pork noodles.  “People love to eat and drink,” Wong Yap said. “They talk about it being a way to connect with family and celebrate.”

Through this project, Wong Yip was invited to participate in 100 Days Action, consisting of a group of activists and artists creating art in storefronts for essential workers. Her piece, Hopes for Chinatown, is now in the storefront of Dragon Seed Bridal and Photo near Chinatown’s Portsmouth Square. 

“Chinatown Arts & Culture Bingo Boards and initial results,” 2020 interactive activity for participation via social media.

Leung says the messages are about less discrimination and more understanding—as well as feeling safe in the community, which is essential to a sense of belonging, Leung says.  

“I always frame it that I think San Francisco’s Chinatown has one of the best infrastructures with exemplary direct services organizations,” she said. “Then we need art to bring in nourishment for your soul, so you can be your truest self. You can’t do that unless you feel safe.”  

The curator and the artist hope that the exhibit will be in a gallery in the fall. Wong Yap is also working on a comic of the stories she has gathered. In spite of the limitations imposed by COVID-19, she is glad to be working on the project and that her work hangs in an iconic spot. 

“It’s been very rewarding to me to be able to be in service to the community at this time, when we’re socially distant and going through economic struggles,” she said. “Doing this project with 100 Days of Action and having Hopes for Chinatown near Portsmouth Square, which is a super popular place is part of the reward.”

HOPES FOR CHINATOWN
Public Art for the
Art for Essential Workers initiative
735 Clay, SF.

ART, CULTURE AND BELONGING
CCC’s Instagram stories 

Aquarium vibes on Folsom: Inkletterman, others beautify shuttered storefronts

Detail of Todd Kurnat's 'Sink or Swim' on Nihon Whiskey Lounge. Photo by Mike Kukreja/www.instagram.com/mikekukreja

“It was perfect timing as I was looking for an artist to do the work, knowing the ugliness that boarded-up storefronts have created all over the city overnight,” said Khaled Dajani, owner of Nihon Whiskey Bar in the Mission at 14th and Folsom, citing artist Todd Kurnat aka Inkletterman‘s offer to beautify his marred exterior.

Like most bar and restaurant owners, Dajani is confronting the ruinous economic downturn of the COVID—and since shutting down in March all three of his operations have been tagged with lewd scrawlings from reckless deeds. “Very difficult times when you had sales and overnight it goes to zero,” he said. His exterior was such a hot mess that city resident and illustrator Kurnat, whose studio is just past Nihon, did some research, found an email, and pitched an idea.

Wide shot of Nihon’s beautification. Photo by Todd Kurnat

“It was a lightbulb moment for me,” said Kurnat, a featured designer in 2017’s Muni Art Project, in which his quirkily anthropomorphized animal renderings were featured on local buses and trains. “I could use my art to help Nihon and the neighborhood by putting some love into this gap that was unintentionally created.” After receiving a message the next morning from Dajani, who loved the idea, Kurnat, got to work.

Vibrant board art has popped up allover the city in the past two months, adorning shuttered businesses from Hayes Valley to the Outer Richmond. Noted artists like Fnnch (whose masked honey bears have become attractions in the Castro and raised $125K for charities) and renowned muralist BiP as well as Art For Civil Discourse’s #PaintTheVoid project (which provides employment for artists) have all produced eye-popping art in a variety of of styles, transforming San Francisco’s once public art-starved landscape into scenes worthy of street art capitals like Valparaíso and Melbourne.

Kurnat’s art is also distinctive. Two bright underwater dwellers with human-like eyes swim across Nihon’s walls, triggering an intuitive calm and well-being. Self-distancing on-lookers pause just for a second, to contemplate the environment. Kurnat is assisted in painting by his five-year-old son Oskar, adding an extra boost of colorful energy. “In my opinion, nature is the greatest artist I know,” Kurnat said. “Her patterns, shapes, colors, personality, and more inspire me endlessly. Some of the most fantastic looking characters are out there in the wild. Ya just gotta look.” These light-hearted commissions—others from Kurnat include Dajani’s Tsunami Panhandle and Bar 821 on Divisadero—give hope in bleak times, according to city officials.

“Visual art in public space can transform our experience of that place and how we think about the community where it’s located” said Rebekah Krell, Acting Director of Cultural Affairs for the San Francisco Arts Commission. “During this crisis, creating artwork on boarded-up businesses beautifies the environment, deters vandalism, and serves as a powerful symbol of hope for a strong recovery.”

Kurnat has also beautified Tsunami Panhandle, with “Everyone Has a Tale to Tell.” Photo by Todd Kurnat

Getting to the opposite end of this world health plight, human interaction—connectivity to be direct—will be one of the most priceless commodities we can bring with us into a very different looking future. Sheltering in place and self-isolation, for those who have the luxury to do so, may save physical lives, solitude and loneliness remain inescapable for the living. Those self-sacrificing delivery workers, transit employees, corner store owners, along with nurses and doctors, are in a reality where they can’t choose their own scenario.

It’s a day to day that remains taut. They walk these modified thoroughfares while going to work, contributing to the greater good, at their own increased risk. That’s a different type of solitude encroaching. No matter how many technology-driven 21st Century Zoom meetings or happy hours we attend, public art remains one of the oldest forms of nonverbal communication (from cave drawings on) that still has the ability to inform, comfort, and uplift in a nanosecond.

Kurnat’s languid tropical scene adorns Mio on Fillmore. Photo by Todd Kurnat.

“Public art beautifies our neighborhoods and can bring a community together even when we are physically apart” said San Francisco Arts Commissioner Suzie Ferras. The City has a long history of public murals, including several Depression-era/New Deal pieces located inside iconic buildings. “Studies show that just seeing art has health benefits including some relief from stress, anxiety, and depression, something that is greatly needed in difficult times like these.

By turning our merchant corridors into vibrant, colorful pop-up art installations, artists are helping alleviate the blight of boarded-up storefronts, and are providing a calming presence in our community. The murals covering the boarded-up windows of our neighborhood shops, bars, and restaurants help keep us hopeful that they will return.”

Kurnat, who started his project over a month ago, through cold-calling, making connections—hustling—in the community, is starting to get requests from businesses, of all sizes, hoping to beautify their storefronts, and uplift visions of the future.

Header photo by Mike Kukreja | www.instagram.com/mikekukreja

The museum’s closed, but ‘The de Young Open’ poises for launch

Angelo A. Sotosanti. "San Francisco Outdoor Art Exhibit," 1941. Image: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

Starting June 1, the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco will welcome submissions from any artist over 18 years old from the nine Bay Area counties: Contra Costa, Alameda, San Francisco, San Mateo, Marin, Napa, Santa Clara, Solano, and Sonoma.

When the museum reopens, the selections for the exhibition The de Young Open will be hung. The art, which will include painting, sculpture, video, prints and photography, will be for sale and all the proceeds will go to the artists. 

This show was already planned to celebrate the de Young’s 125th anniversary, but it is coming sooner than scheduled—other exhibitions were cancelled when the museum closed due to the COVID pandemic. FAMSF director Thomas Campbell said now seemed like a good time for an exhibition showcasing local artists, who like many other groups, have been hit hard by pandemic. 

“The whole point is to celebrate art and creativity,” he said. “We though if we accelerate this, it’s something think about now that’s positive during this health crisis.”

This isn’t the first time the museum has had a community art exhibition. Campbell says the FAMSF recently hired an archivist, and they’ve learned there have been at least three of these shows – in 1915, 1949, and 1999, just before the old building was demolished. 

The theme for this show is “On the Edge,” and artists can take that different ways. 

“Here we are on the edge of America, and on the edge of Pacific Rim,” Campbell said. “There’s also the seismic instability, and we’re a city of cutting edge developments, and now with COVID, on the edge has a new resonance as we’re on the edge of something wholly unknown.”

Campbell adds that artists do not have to follow this theme, and artists are welcome to send in work they’ve created in the past two years. 

Artists can apply online from June 1 through June 14. The work will be selected by a jury including three of the museum’s curators: Timothy Anglin Burgard, Karin Breuer, and Claudia Schmuckl. Campbell says they are hoping for lots of different types of art, which will not be hung one work to a wall, 

“It’ll be in the Herbst galleries downstairs salon-style,” he said. “We want to pack in as many as we can, so it should be chaotic, creative, and fun.”

Campbell has been director at the museums for about a year and a half, and he says a show like one this fits into his goal of strengthening links between the community and the institution. 

“We started our free Saturday program, which has brought new audiences in and much more diverse audiences,” he said. “This is another way of engaging the community with the museum.” 

‘Change the dynamics’: Dawoud Bey on photography, place, and history

Dawoud Bey, "Three Women at a Parade, Harlem NY" (1978)

On February 15, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art opened An American Project, a retrospective, of the work of multi-award-winning photographer and teacher Dawoud Bey. The show was supposed to run through May 25, before traveling to other museums, including the co-organizer of the show, New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art. But due to the COVID- 19 pandemic, the SFMOMA and other museums, closed temporarily in March. Recently the museum put up a short video of Bey talking about visualizing history, and he took over the museum’s Instagram account the week of March 30.

Bey came out to San Francisco for An American Project, and at a preview had a conversation with Corey Keller, (who curated the show along with the Whitney’s Elisabeth Sherman), in which he talked about going to see protests of the widely criticized 1969 exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harlem on My Mind, which mostly excluded African American artists. There was no protest that day, and Bey ended up going into the show, which made him think seriously about being a photographer. 

An American Project includes Bey’s first show, Harlem USA, along with The Birmingham Project, commemorating the 1963 dynamiting of the 16th Street Baptist Church in that city which killed four girls; Night Coming Tenderly, Black about the Underground Railroad; and Class Pictures, portraits of high school students accompanied by their words. 

Bey sat down with 48 Hills and talked about changing from wanting his photos to show people in a “positive light” to just making honest photos; how for The Birmingham Project, photographing children the age of the ones who were killed makes history more specific; and the way the darkness and positioning of the photographs in Night Coming Tenderly, Black pull viewers into the experience of being on the Underground Railroad and running for their lives. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘A Couple in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, NY’ (1990)

48 HILLS Your godmother gave you a camera when you were 15. When did you start using it?

DAWOUD BEY When I got the camera, and it was a very basic Argus C3 Rangefinder camera, I had no idea how to use it. I was more fascinated by the camera itself—the fact that the lens came off, and I began to figure out when you turn this dial the shutter would open slowly. I had no background in photography, and I didn’t any think of it in terms of what would my subject matter be. So I just started walking around with this camera. I never made any memorable photos with that camera, but I did start to notice photography magazines like, “Oh, there’s actually magazines about this stuff.” So it got me engaged with photography, and I started looking at photography books and magazines, and then the possibilities of what one might do with a camera opened up. 

I guess the pivotal thing that happened was the following year when I was 16 and I went to see Harlem on my Mind at the Met. I actually took the camera with me, and I did take a picture of the banner in front of the Met. It was seeing that exhibition that began to expand for me considerably the notion of what the subject of photographs might be. Even though Harlem on My Mind was not an art exhibition, clearly the photographs were not that ones I saw in everyday newspapers and magazine, which up to that point was my only frame of reference for what photographs were. Seeing that exhibition and thinking about my family’s history in Harlem, because my mother and father met in Harlem, and beginning to realize one has to have a kind of nominal subject around which to wrap their picture making, that allowed me to begin making photographs.  

48H So that led to your first show, Harlem USA.

DB Yes. They were photographs of everyday people in Harlem in the public and semi public spaces of Harlem, largely in the streets, and a few in churches and in barber shops and greasy spoon luncheonette restaurants. Those were very much in the tradition of other pictures I had been looking at—a lot from photographers of the WPA and Farm Security Administrator. Walker Evans became an early influence and Roy DeCarava. I started looking at the lot of photographs, trying to get a sense of how photos are made and what good photographs look like. 

48H With that show, Harlem USA, what kind of photos did you want to make?

DB When I started out, I guess I wanted to make photographs that in some significant way contested the stereotypical notions of Black urban communities like Harlem, which are often described through a lens of some form of social pathology. So when I started out, I probably would have said I wanted to make photographs that represented the people of Harlem in a more positive light. But as I continued on, I couldn’t quite figure out what a positive light looks like. This was merely people in the act of living their lives.

I eventually came to this notion of wanting to make an honest representation of everyday people in Harlem. It allowed me to let me let go of this binary notion of positive and negative, and just try and describe clearly the people in front of me without trying to put them in a box. Just allow them space to breathe, and I realized that was enough. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘A Young Man Resting on an Exercise Bike, Amityville, NY’ (1988)

48H You have talked about showing your work in the communities where you took the photos and how the act of being seen is political.

DB I thought it was very important that the work I was making in that community be shown in that community—that the people who were the subjects of the work would have access to the work. Certainly a number of these photographs are made in places very different from where they’re shown, but they’re first shown where they were made, from my first show at the Studio Museum in Harlem in 1979. It gave me a very clear and intentional way of thinking about the institution as a place of display. Not just the end point for the work, but to use the space of the museum to set up a series of particular relationships: between the museum and the community in which it sits, and trying to use the work in a way that a piece of community is in the work. It creates a different relationship between museum and the community, where they are aware they’re being exhibited in this space, which makes them more likely to want to have access to that space.

I think it changes the dynamics. Certainly at the Studio Museum in Harlem, it’s a very different set of circumstances because that place is set up in order to have a place for art objects within the African American community. I wanted my photographs in Harlem to extend that conversation. Usually the first showing of the work is in the place in which the work is made. The Birmingham Project was first shown in Birmingham because it has a very particular relationship with that history. The Class Pictures project was made in several different communities around the country, but each piece first shown in the city in which it was made.

Dawoud Bey, ‘Gerard, Edgewater High School, Orlando, FL (2003)’

48H Why did you decide to have the students you photographed in Class Pictures write something to go along with their portraits?

I thought it was necessary because I wanted a very dimensional representation of those young people. I’m always acutely aware of the limitation of photographs because photographs don’t do a lot more than they do. They’re mute visual objects that present a particular piece of information. But all the information that lies out of the frame, which is a lot of information, tends not to be what the work is about.

In terms of making a contemporary portrait of young people in America, I thought it was important they not only be visualized in my photographs, but that they have a place of self representation and talk about their own lives in a way that the photograph is not capable of. That the two things—my portrait of them and the text—could add up to something more than either alone can represent. In that project I though it was really important to give them a literal voice in the construction of the image.

48H You talked about your work having a through line? What is it?

DB A sense of history and place. There’s always been a kind of close looking at a place. Photographs become history the moment that they’re made. They begin to recede into the past as soon as they are made. It’s about bringing all of that into the conversation through my work. To have them become a part of the conversation from which they’ve been largely excluded.

Dawoud Bey, ‘Mary Parker and Caela Cowan, Birmingham, AL’ (2012)

48H You said you went to Birmingham for years getting to know the city before deciding what you wanted to photograph to commemorate the bombing the 16th Street Baptist Church by white supremacists. How did you decide on young people the same age as the children who were killed in a diptych with someone who would have been their age if they lived?

DB I didn’t want to just photograph young people in Birmingham—I wanted them to be those specific ages. The girls were 11 and 14, and the two boys killed that afternoon were 13 and 16. I wanted them to be that age because for me, the work resonated more deeply in terms of what does an 11-year-old Black girl look like, because one of the girls who was killed in the dynamiting of the church was 11. Not just what does a young girl look like, but what does an 11-year-old African American girl look like.

It’s a way of making that history less mythic and more specific. History as time passes tends to become very gauzy. “The four little girls”…. It almost sounds like a girls’ singing group. Like what is that? I wanted to very specifically give you a sense of what a 14-year-old African American girl looks like, a 13-year-old African American boy. I want them to be that age as a way of invoking their presence in the work, not a presence, but their presence through those young people. And through the adults who were the same age they would have been if they had not been murdered. 

Dawoud Bey, ‘Untitled #20 (Farmhouse and Picket Fence I)’, from the Night Coming Tenderly, Black series (2017)

48H The photos in your Underground Railroad series, Night Coming Tenderly, Black, are very dark. Why did you want them to look like that? 

DB I wanted the viewer to think about moving through that landscape under cover of necessary darkness, as they moved, in that case, toward Lake Erie. I wanted to make photos that evoked that particular sensation. It kind of allowed the viewer to momentarily, through the photograph, inhabit that space under those circumstances, to imagine oneself moving though that terrain under threat of death. 

The positionality of all of them is eye level and meant to be experienced as if one were the person moving through that landscape. I wanted it to be a heightened physical and psychological experience. 

I had a very interesting experience at the Art Institute of Chicago when I showed them for the first time. I came into the gallery and two women had just finished looking at the work and they looked disoriented and they said to me, “You’re the one who made these photographs, right?” I said yes. “But you made them now, right? Obviously you didn’t go back, but why am I feeling I’m someplace I’m not?” It kind of pulled them back. I really want the work to pull you into the experience, so it’s not just a space of the imagination, which it is, but that it resonates as experience.  

How do you represent Black and Latino communities at major museum shows?

Faith Ringgold, "American People Series #18, The Flag Is Bleeding", 1967. Part of the 'Soul of a Nation' show at the de Young. © 2019 Faith Ringgold / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York, Courtesy ACA Galleries, New York / Photo courtesy of Faith Ringgold / Art Resource, NY

The Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco started its Community Representatives program back in 1992 when it hosted an exhibit of the work of Henry Ossawa Tanner. But it was with the Revelations: Art from the African American South exhibit that “codified” the program, according to FAMSF’S director of education, Sheila Pressley. 

Pressley says that, like at many museums, the staff and the docents at the FAMSF are predominantly white, and they want people who represent the diversity of the Bay Area. The de Young’s Soul of a Nation exhibit (through Sat/15) has Community Representatives—20 college students who are paid for their work and eight volunteers. The upcoming Frieda Kahlo exhibit which opens March 21 will also have them. After that exhibit closes in July, the museum hopes to bring the representatives to work with the permanent collection as well. 

(Read more about the Soul of a Nation exhibit here. On Sat/15 at 2pm the exhibit hosts a talk with Bay Area musician and filmmaker Boots Riley.) 

“We’re a city museum and now we’re free on Saturday for Bay Area residents,” Pressley said. “The connection the representatives make is really, really helpful for new audiences who may not feel comfortable in museums. It’s so important to provide an array of representatives and different voices.”

The students who are working for Soul of a Nation come from local schools like Stanford University, University of California, Berkeley, the San Francisco Art Institute, and San Francisco State University. Pressley recently read over the applications from students to work for the Frieda Kahlo exhibit, and these are some of the things they said:

“As a child of two immigrant parents from Mexico, the opportunity to share my culture in a reflective manner is important especially considering today’s anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

“Previously, museums have been intimidating for me to approach. . . It would be an honor to encourage interaction and conversations with visitors like me.”

“Community work has always been a focus of mine— inviting and interacting with marginalized communities who usually do not feel invited or represented in higher art institutions to aid in breaking the stigma that galleries are gated spaces.”

Before they start, the representatives do a few sessions of training and some readings. The main idea, Pressley says, is for them to facilitate open ended questions, encourage visual thinking, let visitors have own reactions to the art and to draw out the visitors’ perspectives. Pressley hopes everyone coming to the museum will feel welcome and know that they don’t need any specialized knowledge to look at art. 

Some current Community Representatives—a student and volunteers—answered to a few questions about their experiences with the Soul of a Nation show by email. 

Blair Thomas shows a group around the piece ‘Gradual Troop Withdrawal’ by John T. Riddle. Photo by Gary Sexton

BLAIR THOMAS

Why did you want to be a Community Representative at the Fine Arts Museums for Soul of a Nation?

I wanted to be part of something bigger than myself. To be able to speak about the artists who opened the doors for Black artists today is my dream. 

What are you studying in school?

I am a double major in Art and Psychology, and I hope to become an art therapist in the near future. 

When did you first get interested in art?

As long as I can remember, I read everything I could get my hands on. That soon led to me drawing all the things I read about and observed.

What do you like most about being a Community Representative?

I love seeing the excitement in people’s eyes. Talking about how it makes them feel and allowing the visitors to gain a deeper understanding of the work is amazing. 

What’s your favorite section or piece in Soul of a Nation?

My favorite piece is Gradual Troop Withdrawal by John T. Riddle. It is just so raw and open in a way that makes people connect with it. I love how it transcends the time of when it was created.

 

OLIVETTE SMITH

Why did you want to be a Community Representative at the Fine Arts Museums for Soul of a Nation?

Having had the opportunity of education and training was a ‘life changing experience’ with the Revelations exhibition. I thought SOAN was sure to broaden my intellect and deepen my passion and understanding the scope of artist talent, skill set and knowledge as well as the beauty of the collaboration among artists like Charles White and David Hammons.

When did you first get interested in art?

I’ve grown up with art exhibits, national shows, with limited African American artists. For me, exposure to African American Artists began during1963-83 with the Civil Rights movement. Honestly, my interest in history through art knows no boundaries now. 

What do you like most about being a Community Representative?

I like adding support and depth to a historical narrative and to some of the richest contributions in history. The personal exchanges enrich me deeply. I like drawing parallels with history… then vs now. 

What is your favorite section or piece in Soul of a Nation?

Charles White’s Wanted Poster No. 5 and Mississippi, David Hammons’ and Roy DeCarava’s work, and the work of Black women like Faith Ringgold, Betye Saar, and Jae Jarrell

 

Community Representative Cheryl Ward shows visitors around the ‘Soul of a Nation’ exhibit at the de Young.

CHERYL WARD

Why did you want to be a Community Representative for Soul of a Nation?

I wanted to further my knowledge of work of this period and share what I have learned. I am an avid supporter of artists and an art collector, and I have done two previous shows (Jacob Lawrence and Revelations). I love being in museums!

When did you first get interested in art?

As a teen, spending time with an artist uncle.

What do you like most about being a Community Representative?

I liked the training and educational preparation for the experience and the lectures, discussions, and assignments. I also like sharing knowledge with interested visitors and hearing stories from others. It’s fun to meeting other Com Reps and to support students, encourage others to visit the exhibition and lectures, and to spend time in the galleries, watching reactions to the work and overhearing comments.

What is your favorite section or piece in Soul of a Nation?

Section: The “Los Angeles Assemblage” gallery [artists responding to the Watts Rebellion]. I have met many of the artists. 

Piece: So difficult to choose!  Barkley Hendricks, Frank Bowling, AfriCOBRA, etc, etc! 


JACQUELINE BOGGAN

Why did you want to be a Community Representative at the Fine Arts Museums for Soul of a Nation?

I was made aware of the opportunity to become a Community Representative by Belva Davis. She informed me that the de Young was seeking African Americans to discuss works of art in the Revelations exhibit several years ago.

As a person who has collected African American art and collectibles for more than 40 years, I was curious about this new opportunity.  Being in a position to have dialogue with museum visitors to discuss African American artists, struck me as unusual and therefore I wanted to be a part of this! It also demonstrated that the de Young was actively seeking African American input, which was a surprise. When I was invited to be a Community Representative for SOAN, I was delighted!

When did you first get interested in art?

I first became interested in art as a young adult while living in Washington, DC. in 1967, which was during the Black Power movement.

What do you like most about being a Community Representative?

The opportunity to dialogue with people face to face about art by African Americans and to listen to their respective views.  It is fascinating to hear these viewpoints from different ages and various ethnicities.  I especially enjoyed the children because the look on their faces when asked their opinion was fun. Typically a museum visitor looks at the works of art in silence.  And if they are on a docent tour, the docent does most of the talking.

What is your favorite section or piece in Soul of a Nation?

I do not have a favorite section or piece in SOAN. All of the art works speak volumes about the experience of African Americans from 1963-1983. Each artist’s work is unique and displays their different approaches to making art that reflects the time period. This is a talent that many museum-goers have never seen. And just to think—the number of artists in this exhibit are only the “tip of the iceberg” of the many accomplished African American artists.

In addition, I applaud the de Young for adding to this tremendous exhibit works by California artists with emphasis on Bay Area artists! Museum visitors have been enriched with African Americans artists being included in a major museum. It is my hope that now people will actively seek work of African American artists and if they find it absent from museums, request they include these Americans whose works deserve to be shown.

SOUL OF A NATION
Through March 15
De Young Museum, SF.
More info here

Creativity Explored branches out with ‘Of here from there’ exhibition

Jesus Huezo of Creativity Explored with his art and paleta cart.

The first time artist Ana Teresa Fernández entered the Creativity Explored studio, she says she fell in love with the space.

“It’s like what you think of as a little kid that Santa’s workshop would be like,” she said. “There’s a bunch of individuals furiously working, and there’s this energy and creativity. I wanted to attempt to replicate this and extract this and create it somewhere else.”

The show of immersive installations the artists from Creativity Explored created working with Fernández, Of Here From There—De Aquí Desde Allá, will open Fri/6 at the San Francisco Art institute Fort Mason campus, and be on view through April 26. Animated and time lapse videos will be projected onto large-scale sculptures designed by CE artists—flowers, dragons, clouds, floating boats—that surround the visitor. Fernández videotaped the artists as they painted on translucent vellum, documenting their brushstrokes from the other side of the easel, like those of Jose Nuñez’s repeating bird figures and Roland Record’s growing labyrinths of lines.

As a visiting artist-in-residence, Fernández, who received her MFA from SFAI in 2006, did more than 15 workshops with CE artists, who have developmental disabilities. She explored the ideas of migration, home, and place with the artists, a large number of whom are from South America and Central America.
Fernández says she was fascinated by the way the artists made marks, the language of those marks, and how art was a means of expression for the artists. She’s taught at many schools in the Bay Area including Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley and SFAI, and the CE artists had something special.

CE artist Camille Holvoet paints with Ana Teresa Fernández as they capture the mark-making process behind Holvoet’s Ferris Wheel motif.

“There’s a certain obsessiveness when you watch them work and see the finished pieces, the layering. Like Corine [Raper] has her pastel in her hand and does it over and over in yellow, and then comes over it with pink and then blue,” she said. “Enkh-Amar Shagdarguntev did this piece in which he drew where he lives, and he does this beautiful line work to draw this building in orange. He drew in windows and doors. The line is almost like an Etch A Sketch. It overtook entire image, and it’s this entirely orange painting. For me, it’s like that line becomes the entire space and it begs the question are we who we are because of the community around us or is our community that way because of us?”

Fernández loved her year and a half of working with the artists at CE—and they loved working with her right back, says CE director Linda Johnson.

“I think that’s another part of Ana Teresa’s magic that she became a friend and mentor to the artists she worked with of whom there were dozens and dozens,” Johnson said. “She came in with incredible ideas and ran with their ideas, and whenever she shows up, she’s immediately surrounded by artists.”

Creativity Explored artist Joseph “JD” Green participates in a workshop with Ana Teresa Fernández to capture his mark-making process in real time.

The staff wanted to do a large-scale public art project as a way to connect CE artists with a broader community, Johnson says, and Fernández was the perfect partner.

“Our staff was impressed with her work, particularly her social sculptures and the way she interacts with issues and environments in a meaningful humble, and exploratory way,” Johnson said. “When she came to the studio, we immediately knew we made the right choice.”

Johnson says she’s excited the artists’ work will be at the Fort Mason campus of SFAI, and she particularly looks forward to seeing Jesus Huezo‘s paleta cart that he and Fernández collaborated on, which has paleta shaped postcards for the public to share reflections on.

The opening reception of Of Here From There—De Aquí Desde Allá on Fri/6 from 6-9pm is free and will include performances by poet Leticia Hernández Linares, dancer Vanessa Sanchez, and musicianTommy Guerrero.

OF HERE FROM THERE—DE AQUÍ DESDE ALLÁ
Opening reception Fri/6. On view through April 26.
San Francisco Art Institute—Fort Mason’s galleries
Free. More information here

Electrifying art of Black Power in ‘Soul of a Nation’

Barbara Jones-Hogu, "Unite," 1971. From 'Soul of a Nation' at the De Young

Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963–1983 was organized by London’s Tate Museum and traveled to Arkansas, New York, and Los Angeles before coming to the de Young Museum. But Thomas Campbell, the director of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco made it a priority to bring the show to San Francisco.  

He did so because a show highlighting the artists inspired by the Civil Rights and Black Power movements and their influence on art seems so important now, says assistant curator of American art at the FAMSF, Lauren Palmor. She mentions something African American studies and art history Bridget Cooks said at the opening of the show at The Broad in Los Angeles. 

“She said, ‘I have good news and bad news. This show has never been more relevant,’” Palmor said. 

The relevance of the artwork can be seen over and over in Soul of a Nation, Palmor said. “A work by Phillip Lindsay Mason, Manchild in the Promised Land was painted in 1968, but if you cover the label, it could be a reflection on Travon Martin,” she said. “It’s galling to see how little has changed. The perspective in the painting is you looking down on a red target on the boy’s chest, like his body is a target for a potential aggressor.”

Installation photo of Phillip Lindsay Mason’s “Manchild in the Promised Land” in “Soul of the Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power 1963-1983” at the de Young Museum. Photograph by Gary Sexton

The show has the work of several art groups, beginning with the Spiral Group, a collective of New York African-American artists who organized in 1963 in direct response to the  March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. Others include a group which started in Chicago, AfriCOBRA  (the African Commune of Bad Relevant Artists), and Just Above Midtown created in 1974 by Linda Goode Bryant.

Soul of a Nation includes figurative and abstract painting, prints, collage, sculpture, and photography. Photographers in the show include  Roy DeCarava who won a Guggenheim Fellowship, and Dawoud Bey, who has a retrospective, An American Project , opening at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art on February 15. 

 

 

Faith Ringgold, “American People Series #18, The Flag Is Bleeding,” 1967

The de Young’s presentation will also include an expanded selection of works by African American artists working in the San Francisco Bay Area or works with a Bay Area connection. These artworks have a seven-pointed star in rainbow colors on the label next to them, a reference to Rainbow Sign, a community center in Berkeley that served as an art gallery, concert venue, and restaurant, hosting writers such as James Baldwin and Maya Angelou, singers Nina Simone and Odetta, and politician Shirley Chisholm as well as visual artists.

Elizabeth Catlett’s Black Unity, a mahogany sculpture of a giant raised fist, done as an homage to the raised Black Power fist at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics was shown at Rainbow Sign, as was one of Betye Saar’s most famous pieces, The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, a mixed-media work featuring an “Aunt Jemima” mammy figure holding a broom and a rifle. Black Panther Party for Self-Defense leader Angela Davis said about The Liberation of Aunt Jemima, “This [work] is where Black feminism began.”

Betye Saar, “The Liberation of Aunt Jemima,” 1972. Wood, cotton, plastic, metal, acrylic paint, printed paper and fabric.. Photo Benjamin Blackwell

Another work with a rainbow star on its label is “Non-Violence” by Mike Henderson, who came from a small town in Missouri to attend the San Francisco Art Institute in 1965, and has been here ever since. Henderson, a film maker and blues musician who has played and spoken at several Soul of A Nation events, says he would work in the studios at SFAI until late at night, and walking home, police officers would stop him, sometimes more than once before he got to the Stockton Tunnel. “Non-Violence,” which shows a police officer with a swastika on his arm, holding a machete and about to attack an already wounded animal, was painted in response to that.

“I was very passionate about that issue when I did that painting,” Henderson said. “Where I came from there was no venue to talk about that. It was football and baseball and whatever was in the barber shop. It was the Bible Belt, and men didn’t talk about art and music—men played football and they fished.”

Henderson says when he came out here, he was moved to see people, like the Black Panthers, trying to make a difference. He didn’t want to be a person who just observed change, he said. He wanted to be part of it. It was after a demonstration when Martin Luther King, Jr was killed that Henderson decided to make movies.

“I was walking home thinking, ‘How can I make my paintings more powerful?’” he said. “I decided I could make them move.” (Some of Henderson’s experimental films are at the Haines Gallery with a show of his paintings until March 28). 

For Henderson, it’s wonderful to see all the art engaging visitors at Soul of a Nation. 

Nelson Stevens, “Uhuru,” 1971. Screenprint on paper.

“I really applaud the curators for doing the show,” he said. “For me, one of the great moments at the show was meeting this young kid from CCA who was there with his grandmother and mother. He was this young African American guy probably just out of high school, and I thought, ‘Wow this is fantastic!’ and I gave him my contact information. That show has had some free days for people to come and it’s reaching out to an audience that is silently hungry for the fine arts.”

Along with free days, the museum has scheduled many events to go along with Soul of a Nation. Upcoming: Jahi, from Public Enemy (radio) talking about hip hop and education on Feb. 22, and on March 14, poet, rapper, activist and filmmaker Boots Riley (Sorry to Bother You) will be there for the closing weekend. 

SOUL OF A NATION
Through March 15
de Young Museum, SF
Tickets and more info here

Look! Up in the sky! It’s public art—with Premiere Jr.

I finally made it to Salesforce Park, a perfectly pleasant, perfectly sterile civic project atop the new Transbay Terminal. The downtown public space is billed as a “living roof”—the gardening, featuring plants from around the world, is impressive and sculptural, if far too overdetermined to feel outdoorsy—and the whole thing probably aspires to the urban-activation genius of New York’s High Line.

While it’s a lovely stroll, with features like a glass Salesforce Gondola ferrying people from the Salesforce Plaza below (it frustratingly only runs one way), there are three things which will keep Salesforce Park from attaining the cultural and even poetic highs of the High Line. First, obviously, the noxious branding. Salesforce, we get it, even if we still have no idea what that phallus-housed company actually does. Or where the public part of this project ends and the private part begins.

Second, the charm of the High Line, despite inciting a rampage of development and gentrification, is that you feel like you are walking though old New York (the path used to be a railway for meat cars winding above the Chelsea neighborhood), even peering into decades-old brick buildings and warehouses. The view from Salesforce Park, however, is completely unrecognizable as San Francisco, hemmed in by blinding glass towers and new construction. Even the area itself is disorienting—Rincon Hill has been rechristened as “The East Cut,” a chilling rebranding that only a broker could love.

Ned Kahn’s Bus Fountain at Salesforce Park

But most of all, Salesforce Park is starved for public art. There is plenty of event space and seating (hostile architecture, of course, wouldn’t want any homeless people to settle on a public bench!), even a Zumba arena and a large section where you can check out and play free board games. But apart from one fantastically whimsical sculpture (Ned Kahn’s thousand-foot long, boringly named “Bus Fountain,” which shoots streams of water up as vehicles pass below) and a Calatrava-like overpass bridge, there’s barely any artistic expression apparent. Contrast this to the dozens of murals, sculptures, and installations along the High Line.

How did this happen? Inside the Transbay terminal itself, as KQED arts editor Sarah Hotchkiss has described, are some large, intriguing installations. Just down the street, at the former Rincon Hill Post Office, you can see some of the most famous and historical murals on the West Coast. Imagine the bottomless-pocketed Salesforce commissioning 30 artist to create something for this outdoor 5.4 acres, an art-washing that would be welcomed by an underfunded scene. Maybe something’s on the way. As it is now, though, the whole thing feels somewhat bleak, like an open-air office. There’s a Starbucks.

Luckily, the rest of SF seems to be slowly waking back up to public art beyond those legendary Mission murals and neato windows—from the humungous, politically-conscious street art pieces going up in the (rapidly gentrifying) Tenderloin and Mid-Market areas, to tiny pop-up wonders like Peephole Cinema, which is exactly what it sounds like, and this adorable thing on Market I just noticed:

Neat window display along Market Street. Haven’t called yet.

Now, Hotchkiss herself, along with partner-in-curation Zoë Taleporos of the San Francisco Arts Commission, joins in the guerrilla-esque artifying with Premiere Jr., a wee billboard-cum-gallery in the Inner Sunset, on Irving between 7th and 8th avenues. They’ve rented the 72-square-foot billboard for a year, and will be commissioning four different local artists to take over the space, beginning with Lindsey White Sunday, February 9-April 19 (opening party Sun/9, 2m-5pm, outside the nearby Fireside Bar, where there’s the best view of the piece).

The thought of an artsy billboard immediately calls to mind the glory days of culture jamming and the Billboard Liberation Front. But while the politics behind Premiere Jr. may be more liberating than liberationist, there’s still a good dose of street-level (or rather, roof-level) subversion, especially when it comes to the state of SF’s public art.

Taleporos told me, “I currently work as a Public Art Project Manager at the San Francisco Arts Commission where I am involved in commissioning a wide range of artworks for public spaces, including murals, free standing sculptures, and architecturally integrated projects by both local and non-local artists. While San Francisco’s Percent for Art Ordinance allocates 2% for public art (New York and Los Angeles only allocate 1%), that funding is usually restricted to commissioning permanent public artworks that are tied to large stakeholder groups and complicated sets of restrictions.

“You don’t see a lot of temporary public artworks in San Francisco because funding opportunities for that type of work are hard to come by,” Taleporos said. “And the politics of public space are so robust here. So, when you have a self-funded project on a tiny, weird space that no one else wanted, a project that’s only on view for three months, you have nothing but freedom to experiment.”

Both curators have been involved with such projects before—Taleporos was a co-director and curator of Royal NoneSuch Gallery in Oakland and Queen’s Nails Projects in San Francisco. And Hotchkiss was the founder and co-director of Stairwell’s, a project that led walking tours and staged exhibitions in nontraditional spaces. But something drew them to this particular spot.

Zoë Taleporos and Sarah Hotchkiss, curators of Premiere Jr. Taken from the Instagram @premiere_jr

“I live very close to the billboard and have spent a lot of time waiting for the N Judah while looking up at it,” Hotchkiss said. “It’s extremely small, and only seems to exist because there’s another, larger billboard for it to hang off of. It is just such a weird little space, it was really calling for an art experiment to cover its surface. We contacted Clear Channel and it was available starting at the beginning of 2020—the timing worked out perfectly.”

Unsurprisingly, Clear Channel wouldn’t pony up any discount for the project, and the two are paying for the billboard and providing honorariums to the artists out of pocket. But “it’s surprisingly affordable to rent a 6-by-12-foot billboard for an entire year—more people should interrupt their neighborhood advertising!”

Challenge accepted. And a billboard obviously comes without the outrageous rent hikes driving so many small galleries to close. If you can’t survive on the ground, take to the skies. But what about the art itself? Lindsey White, the first contributor, is a visual artist who’s worked in photography, video, sculpture, and book-making. She won the prestigious SECA Award in 2017, and her work often summons humor and magic.

Lindsey White, Premiere Jr.’s first artist

“I haven’t made a billboard, but I did present a series of photographs in Copenhagen subway kiosks a few years back,” she told me. “My favorite exhibition opportunities are generally in alternative or public places, like SFO or the subway, so a billboard project is right up my alley. I love when art becomes part of an everyday, lived experience.

“I felt intimidated at first, because I wanted to make a piece that got people’s attention and was entertaining, but that also asked questions and tapped into an existential mind space,” White continued. “Hopefully, someone will be sipping their coffee as they wait for the N Judah, and they’ll look up at my billboard and be curious enough to call the toll free number.”

I asked White, without giving too much away before the unveiling, what was the inspiration for her piece? “A wig, fake mustache, buttons for eyes, and a big question. I wanted the billboard to feel kind of timeless, but have the ability to rattle around your head like a good jingle. I was also thinking about how every billboard in the Bay Area seems to be for a tech-based demographic. Why not push back with something a little antiquated? Either way, I hope people will get a good laugh.”

And, as an artist, what are her general thoughts on the state of pubic art in SF? “The San Francisco Arts Commission has developed a lot of great public projects, from airport terminals to kiosks,” White told me. “On another note, I think tech companies should stop paying artists to make art on their private campuses and instead support artists to make genuine public art for various local communities. Those sort of projects aren’t branded, they’re real. Most importantly, projects like Premier Jr. add to the long history of artist-run projects and keep San Francisco interesting.”

PREMIERE JR.: LINDSEY WHITE 
Sunday, February 9-April 19
Opening gathering Sun/9, 2pm-5am, outside Fireside Bar at 7th Avenue and Irving
Billboard location: 624 Irving Street, SF. 
More info here.

The joy of ‘Gayface’

"Zack" from the Gayface series by Lauren Tabak

“Well, you’re queer,” photographer-artist-musician-coolperson Lauren Tabak says to me, quite correctly, on the phone. “What do you think about when you’re putting together a look?”

I’m a ’70s kid who blossomed in the ’90s, so for better or worse, everything I wear is politically fraught, hopelessly ironic, and ever-shadowed by guilt. (Is this from a sweatshop? Am I appropriating anything cultural? Is this something Rosie O’Donnell would wear?) So basically, in all senses of that adverb, I’m a typical older gay person.

“When I came out, I pierced my septum so everyone would know,” Tabak, who’s of my general generation, told me. Ah, for the days when piercing a body part meant something.

‘Amaris’ by Lauren Tabak

Tabak has launched a series of portraits (on display at gallery-cafe The Laundry through March 30, opening reception Fri/17 6pm-8pm) that explores contemporary queer identity—how are we seen, how do we make ourselves seen, what does our constructed appearance mean—in an era of melting definitions and binaries, uploads and filters, apps and ad-targeting, liberation and backlash, branding and resisting.

“I was interested in, and became fascinated by, how people ‘flag’ their identities now,” Tabak said, referencing the ancient dress codes (colored handkerchiefs, bar t-shirts, items of clothing, etc) and the gay gazes/looks that used to be necessary to identify one another on the street, while swimming in a silencing sea of heteronormativity.

The series of striking portraits, representing a huge variety of folks, is a labor of love for Tabak, who said she started it at first to be able to hang out with friends and people she likes. (The portraits are shot in her home, and there’s been a lot of day-drinking involved.)

‘Sergio’ by Lauren Tabak

But soon the circle widened as she began to digest the sheer amount of individuality and originality in today’s queer looks. Compared to the “Castro clone” look of 50 years ago, which flagged a generation of gay men (and butch women), there seems to be an endless variety of styles that fall under the wondrously growing LGBTLMNOP umbrella. With such diversity, she became curious: How does queer visibility matter, here and now?

Each portrait is taken against a pink background (duh) and comes with an accompanying story from the subject about their llfe. (We’re debuting one portrait and story, Andrea’s, below.) For her show at The Laundry, Tabak will also include an audio element, in which you can hear each subject telling their own tales.

“Some stories are powerful and poetic, some are just funny, and some are totally unexpected,” Tabak told me. “One of my subjects, Miles, came in and I thought he was just another gay boy for a fun shoot—but it turned out he was trans, with an incredibly deep story about hiding himself. So this project also seems to be a way of bringing those stories to light, and maybe a way of keeping them in one place. I think of it as a referendum on the state of gay.” (One subject, Amaris, says in her story that the exodus of queer people from San Francisco makes her want to be as visible as possible, a beacon of queerness.)

‘Kyle’ by Lauren Tabak

So, I asked, in this moment of Instagram and Grindr, when everyone already shows their own Gayface to the world, how is this project taking a different and necessary approach?

“The people featured in Gayface aren’t just people I photograph, they’re my collaborators,” Tabak replied. “I’ll send them a bunch of proofs afterwards and we pick out ‘the one’ together. And then I’ll ask them why they like what they liked. Some of the time, they say ‘I look really hot’—which can be very affirming when someone else puts you in that light. But a lot of the time they say ‘I look like me.’ And I think that’s just such a wonderful alchemy to have happen in a collaboration like this.

“One thing I’ve discovered is that younger people don’t care as much about the heavier political meanings of how they’re presenting themselves to the world, like maybe someone from our generation would,” Tabak said. “They’re less about representation and more about ‘I’m just doing me.’ There’s an openness to that, which was unexpected. They’ve already claimed it.”

With so many flavors of queer at the moment, how will she know when the series is finished? “We live in a bubble,” Tabak says, again quite correctly. “My dream is to hop in an RV with my dog and travel the country, have these conversations with and photograph as many people as I can, and see how things are looking out there.”

—-

Below is a debut portrait of Andrea, along with her story

‘Andrea’ by Lauren Tabak

Goldilocks and the 3 bears was my favorite book as a kid. I loved that this lost child found her perfect ”chair,” a safe space, a place she belonged, or so she thought.

This year I will have been out for half my life. The queer community I was born into was defined by gay and lesbian bars and the poster child was a blonde haired, blue-eyed lesbian comedian. While my curly hair is messier and darker than Goldilocks and my eyes are more gray than Ellen’s, I still pass for white. As a young queer I settled for this because at least I felt accepted, at least a part of me belonged as opposed to the whole of me feeling alone. 

Both sides of my family migrated from Mexico to Stockton. We would visit San Francisco often and I was drawn to the outright defiance of conformity that pervaded the SF of the ’90s. A place where immigrants, artists and outcasts sought refuge, a city where community meant everything. 

It’s taken me all the 37 years of my life to learn to silence preconceived notions around my identity. I embrace the power I hold, I am the legacy of my family’s courage and the “borders“ I am transcending for future generations are; toxic machismo, classism, homophobia, and racism. Growing up between two cultures meant that code switching was a means of survival and that has translated into how I navigate hetero/queer, genders/nonbinary, architect/artist, trauma/healing.

After two decades of living all over California, absorbing and immersing myself in the queer circles, latinx communities, and creative networks I finally find myself in San Francisco. My journey has taught me to unapologetically claim all the complicated layers of my existence. I have become uncompromising, and authentically me because I found my throne, it was in the mirror all along.

GAYFACE
Through March 30
Opening reception Fri/17, 6pm-8pm
The Laundry, SF. 
More info here