Open House & Holiday Art Sale

Join Artist Fellow Todd T. Brown and artist Roxana Sagastume from San Cristobal de la Casas, Chiapas, Mexico for an open house and holiday art sale in Todd’s private studio. Featuring a combination of new works by Todd in preparation for the 2012 de Young exhibit, as well as a series of small works for the holiday season, the holiday art sales help to support artists in the Bay Area!

This open house will be held Sunday, December 4 from 3:00-9:00 p.m. at 550 Thornton Avenue, San Francisco, CA. 

For more information, please contact Todd T. Brown at teobidreams@gmail.com

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Revisiting San Francisco “Block by Block”

San Francisco has always been a site for the convergence of cultures. As Campo Santo Theater prepares to premiere Block by Block, a tribute to the city inspired by the cast and crew members’ love for their own neighborhoods, we take a glimpse at some of the special places that make our beloved city such a tapestry—the people, the places, the food, and the history.

View from Excelsior

Downtown

The Chronicle building While its fame comes largely from the Victorian influence and “painted ladies” of residential neighborhoods, the architecture of San Francisco is as diverse as its people. The Chronicle building at 5th and Mission, now also home to Intersection for the Arts, was designed in 1924 in the Gothic Revival style, said to reflect the scholastic and romantic nature of the newspaper business. Michael H. de Young, the newspaper magnate and founder of the Chronicle, was instrumental in bringing art to the public, inspired by the 1894 California Midwinter International Exposition to found what would become the M. H. de Young Memorial Museum.

Mission

Roosevelt Tamale Parlor It’s no secret that Mexican food abounds in the Mission District, but when history and food come together, it just may be best presented in the form of Roosevelt Tamale Parlor. Since 1950, the Carrasco family has never paused in doling out its specialty round tamales heaping with authentic goodness, a recipe passed down from the founder’s grandmother in Jalisco, Mexico. Despite a neighborhood influx of dot-commers, hipsters, and ice cream parlors, amid a cascade of Chicano power, mural arts, and emigration, Roosevelt has remained a checker-floored, presidentially decked-out haven of good old Mission warmth.

“My favorite hangout is not really a place, I just love watching all the people in the Mission.”—Ray Diaz, design team

Fillmore

The Fillmore neighborhood is home to one of the richest jazz histories in the United States. Known as the “Harlem of the West,” the neighborhood began atrracting great musicians as early as 1930. An influx of African American families populated the neighborhood during the ’40s and ’50s. Soon, many nightclubs (such as Leola King’s Birdcage) opened in the neighborhood, bringing major musical icons including Ella Fitzgerald, Louis Armstrong, and Billie Holiday. Today, the neighborhood still boasts some of the best contemporary and jazz venues with Yoshi’s and The Fillmore.

“This one is a bit odd, but my favorite place is the middle level of the parking structure at Geary and Masonic. There’s such a great view of Pacific Heights, the Fillmore, and the financial district from there. It’s great to just look out knowing you have so many walks of life and so much creativity in one small area. It makes me think, ‘This is MY city!'”—Assad “Invent” Conley, Performer/Embodiment Project

 View from parking lot 

Hunters Point

Todd Brown studio in Hunter's Point Artists are known for pioneering new urban environments and transforming what might seem blighted into a place of creativity. Since 1983, there has been a consistent artist presence in the Hunters Point neighborhood. “Faced with eviction, shipyard tenants banded together to preserve the unique mixture of arts and small business flourishing there” and is now home to the “largest community of fine arts professionals to date in the nation,” according to Shipyard Trust for the Arts.

“My favorite hangout is anywhere I can vibe out to good music, dance, and be around good people! So basically, the entire city.”—Assad Conley, Performer/Embodiment Project

Excelsior

 Typically bemoaned by some city-goers, as too “far away,” the Excelsior has quite a few gems and is home to its own vibrant streets, named for cities from around the world. There are many delicacies at the Alemany Farmers’ Market. Dating from the 1940s, it is the oldest farmers’ market in California. It is also known, affectionately, as “the people’s market” because of its affordability and communal atmosphere and has been cited as a model for other farmers’ markets due to its support of small farms.

“I love the Excelsior Bridge—that it¹s painted with the street names, but also that it’s between the Mission and Excelsior, where a lot of immigrants have crossed over when they moved out of the Mission.”—Tanya Orellano, design team

Castro

Pink Triangle Park Being a historical city, we try to remember everything that happens, and for good reason. The Castro neighborhood is laden with important historical markers and public spaces critical to the LGBT movement and honoring the losses from the AIDS epidemic since the 1980s. From the Pink Triangle Park and Memorial to the site of Harvey Milk’s camera store, there are many places to reflect on those who have come before to fight for equality of all people.

“I love to drive through the neighborhoods that are still neighborhoods and see that San Francisco is still San Francisco. It’s open to change. and that’s a beautiful thing.” —Sean San José, Director

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Interview with Sean San José about mixing Junot Diaz and the streets of San Francisco in “Block by Block”

Campo Santo, de Young Artist Fellow and award-winning resident theater company of Intersection for the Arts, premieres Block by Block: The Pura Principle, its newest theatrical work, in the de Young’s Koret Auditorium on November 17, 18, and 19. The performance is based on the writings of author Junot Díaz and follows 2009’s multi-extended, sold-out world premiere production of Fuku Americanus, created from Díaz’s Pulitzer-winning novel The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao.

Block by Block brings back to the stage Díaz’s wild and beautiful voice, with the rawness of his characters and this world in which we live. The story is rooted in the New Jersey Dominican life, but Sean San José, theater director for Campo Santo, has adapted Diaz’s writings to life in our city, bringing a San Francisco block party to the de Young with dance, mixed media, and live music—mixing beat-boxing, spoken-word movement,battles and more—along with projected visuals.

Audiences will be taken on a journey through San Francisco, block by block. With choreographed, immediate, and purposeful performances, visit six neighborhoods of the city. Experience dj battles with Felonious, dance battles with Nicole Klaymoon and the Embodiment Project, the murals of the Mission with projected visuals created by acclaimed artists Favianna Rodriguez, Evan Bissell, and Ricardo Richey, the urban life and writings of Junot Diaz with the Campo Santo Street Team and DJ Wonway, and Susie Lundy and will transport you from Fillmore to the Mission with Subway Strutting to Carnaval. Experience downtown, Fillmore, Excelsior, Hunter’s Point, the Mission, and Castro. See a preview here!

What to see
4:30 pm The journey begins with pop-up performances in select spots in the de Young
6:00 pm Enjoy a free drink (with ticket) and mingle with the performers at our pre-show reception
7:00 pm The show begins in the Koret Auditorium

How did we arrive at this place? We spoke with Director Sean San José to get a deeper look at the inspiration and creative process behind Block by Block.

Sean San  Jose Sean San Jose. Photo by Adrian Arias

Why did you decide to work with the writings of Junot Díaz again? How did you make the connection to San Francisco?

The idea was to start with a strong story with direct, bold, and complicated questions at the base of whatever we did. Junot Díaz has a way of telling stories that is interior and personal but also declarative in a way that makes your own family history almost epic.

Choosing Díaz was about this opportunity offered by the de Young and the strength of what the de Young is and represents. What could reflect the de Young as a landmark—historically, artistically, and culturally? We wanted to make a performance that responds to that and we really wanted to reflect the spirit of Friday Nights and the Cultural Encounters program. We wanted to populate this landmark with people from the city.

How did you decide which performances to bring in, and how do they reflect the City?

We wanted to reflect the scope physically and culturally that the de Young represents, with a directness and intimacy that also has the punch and expanse of a parade.

What happens on the concrete streets is what’s exciting. You could focus, intimately, on a boom-box, street battle, dance battle, storytelling around music, to something as expansive and elaborate as a Carnaval parade. On the street, dance battles become spectacles. They’re a cultural communing, an art form and a performance. You can create, participate or watch as a spectator. These neighborhood rituals are valid and exciting, and as great as a painting by a visual artist or a jazz composition. I think that these things deserve a place in the museum, too.

The concrete streets are full of possibilities. We thought about what performative communal gathering have art forms in them and who does that in exceptional ways. This led to the mediums, and that led us to the artists.

What areas of San Francisco are covered, and why?

Those folks [the performers] dictated what neighborhoods are included by what interested and sparked them. Susie Lundy is great at a diversity of dance and immediately brought in the idea of moving from Fillmore Strutters to the Mission (with Carnaval).We’re bringing together these major cultural institutions, like the museum does with programs and pushing into that idea even further.

We thought about what neighborhoods don’t get a lot of representation in the museum, like the Fillmore, and what art forms there are in San Francisco, like the murals that are in the Mission. So there was an organic flow, a shape to the story.

______

Sean San José is program director of theatre for Intersection for the Arts and cofounder of Campo Santo, as well as the Director of Block by Block.

Block by Block is limited to three showings only. Purchase your tickets or join us on Facebook next week for a chance to win free tickets. Because of the generous support received by The Irvine Foundation to cover production related costs, 100 percent of your ticket purchase goes directly to the artists involved in the process of creating the artwork. $20 general in advance ($25 at the door), $12 students, $10 members. More information

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Block by Block tickets are on sale now!

Block by Block will be at the de Young November 17, 18, and 19 at 7:00 pm in Koret Auditorium.  Tickets are already on sale for the advance price of $20 general, $12 student, $10 member.

Purchase your tickets now and come join us for a free drink at the pre-show reception at 6 pm!

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“Inheritance” opens Friday, September 16

The gallery will be closed today (9/16) as Todd T. Brown prepares  for the opening of Inheritance, which features a new body of mixed-media works created over the past few months at the de Young museum and in his own studio. Take a look at the beautiful exhibition book, created by Adrian Arias. It features a statement by Brown on his art, as well as behind-the-scenes images from the studio.

Inheritance
September 16-23
Kimball Gallery, de Young, Golden Gate Park

Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm + Fridays until 8:30 pm
except Saturdays, 1:00-5:00 pm only
Please note: The exhibit opens at 6 pm on 9/16

Opening Reception
September 16, 6:00-8:30 pm
Artist Talk
September 23, 6:00-6:45 p.m.

Select works will be on display through September 30

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Todd T. Brown on “Inheritance”

On Friday, September 16, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., the de Young will present the opening of Artist Fellow Todd T. Brown’s mixed-media exhibit Inheritance, a complex exploration of the intersection between human histories and the self-identity. The opening will coincide with our weekly event Friday Nights at the de Young and will be located in the Kimball Artist Studio.

The exhibit will include a 33-foot large-scale work, Invisible Passage, which Todd Brown completed as a de Young artist-in-residence in 2009. He is currently working on a set of accompanying pieces that will not only expand upon the thematic basis of that original piece, which portrays a diagram of a slave ship, but will also invite visitors to examine their own ideas of a distinct and immediately recognizable historical moment as well as of our relationship to the whole of human history. Brown manages to literally and figuratively unite a set of new works with the monumental Invisible Passage despite differences in medium, imagery, and historical reference. In other words, he has taken a rich, multilayered piece and elaborated upon it, bringing us deeper into his multifaceted meditations on what it is to be a human being and what it means to find where you fit in a world and society that thrives upon the formation of strict categories.

Todd T. Brown has sewn enormous, bold ideas into the vibrant yet minimalist visual works that make upInheritance. We recently had a chance to sit down with him and explore the aspects of his journey as an artist and as a human being that led to this exhibit and discover what ideas he has been exploring in preparation for its completion.

Explain how your pathway as an artist led to Inheritance.

I would say that, as a human being, it was the feeling of wanting to know where I fit in this world. You are born into this world, and the adults really don’t have the answers for us, so we grow up kind of learning and making our way, and I think I experienced a long journey of trying to see “where do I fit?” and “how do I be responsible to this world around me?” It’s different if you’re born in one part of the world from another part of the world. I was born in the States; in a situation where I was relatively well off, with access to higher education. I was in that sort of “first world United States.” In college, I started to become aware of global history, of how our accumulation of resources generally comes at the expense of the developing world, particularly the global south. So, maturing as an adult was really asking, how do I understand that? How do I find my own joy and inner peace while also reckoning with history and the present day situation that I benefit from because of the arrangement of economics?

I came to the title Inheritance, which I feel pretty good about, because I’m thinking about that word in its fullest sense. We think of what we inherit individually from our family—everything from material things to biological things. We inherit on a global scale all of human history, and for those of us living today we’ve inherited everything human beings have amassed in the past: everything from the most horrific sides of humanity to the most beautiful, poetic, and rich sides. When we try to understand ourselves, we’re only picking from part of that scope—we’re looking at a piece of history and identifying it rather than seeing that we’re part of this immensity. So by using this title, I’m trying to point towards the fact that we’re all born into this immense inheritance and that we really don’t know what to do with it.  We’re still trying to make sense of it. At least for me, you stand and kind of look at that vast scope and it’s humbling. It makes me want to understand more, makes me less likely to assert something, to say, “this is the solution, this is how it should be.” We’re surrounded by so much that we don’t know.

So with Inheritance, you’re really commenting on a shared global consciousness.  How did this theme emerge in your work and how does it continue on in your current work?

In college I was a fine arts major, and while I was focused in painting, I also had a lot of freedom to take electives, so a lot of my time was going into classes, a lot of literature from African American history, from the Harlem Renaissance to the present, and developments in theater in Africa, how it played a role in political struggles, understanding the process of colonization. I was developing painting techniques on one side and trying to comprehend these much larger issues on the other side, in present day. Since that time, those two sides have kind of swirled around each other, kind of progressing in their own way.

How have your past residency and current fellowship at the de Young inspired you or influenced your work?

I did a residency at the de Young in 2009 with Meklit Hadero, and that’s when I painted this large-scale piece called Invisible Passage, a piece based on a diagram of a slave ship. It’s this huge diagram that has other painted layers, and my focus wasn’t necessarily on slavery or passage, but I was thinking about this theme of Inheritance. I was looking at how today, we’re still trying to work all that out. Everything that’s gone on in US history, we’re still trying to work that out – we don’t have answers. Painting that piece was my way of going into that, but anyone who looks at that piece, they’re going to see a slave ship. Right away it’s a very specific symbol designating a specific history and now I’m doing a fellowship in 2011 and the de Young has invited me to bring that piece back. What I’m doing now is definitely related to how that piece sparked the present.

How has bringing this piece back into the same space but in a different context affected your idea of the piece, how you’re going to incorporate it into a new series of works?

Bringing that piece back—and getting the response that I get from it—I had to first of all create a body of work that’s going to go with this piece. You’ve got a 33-foot painting in a gallery, it’s going to dominate the exhibit, so in order to make a strong body of work that relates to it I had to think, How do I take an image that’s so impregnated with this specific meaning and open it so that more people can relate to that?

For instance, someone’s going to look at a slave ship and they’re going to see it as a work dealing with African American history; they’re going to see it as specific. One of the first questions when looking at me as a white American artist painting a slave ship is, “Why are you painting this?” Looking at that made me think about how it’s unlikely that someone will look at me painting that and think of it as a work exploring European history, and there’s also that aspect because the ships were designed and sailed by Europeans. That in itself leads to a more complex understanding rather than these narrow narratives of which history belongs to who. You begin to see that these histories are really infused with so many different histories. The whole of the work is coming out of a deep sense of care of people, and to really care for people means to kind of hold the wholeness of who they are rather than pegging them into a narrow category.

With the performance work we’re going to do, we’re thinking of using masks. I’m going to cover my face, and people usually think that if you’re going to cover your face, you’re hiding, but what if you flip it and say that I’m covering my face in order to make you see beyond my face? If you see my face, you’ll make assumptions about who I am, where I come from. So it’s like using the mask as a device to say, “what if we look beyond that?” If you think about biological inheritance, why it is that you have a certain nose, certain eyes, the way that you do something… My mother tells me that the cadence of my speech sounds like my grandfather’s. I feel certain that there’s ways we do a little thing…that five generations ago we have some great great grandmother or father that, you know, they have a friend who could just look at us and tell us we’re acting in the same way they used to do. If you think about it in terms of what manifests in us today versus how we think about it, when we think about identity we think about it in terms of ethnicity, “I’m a quarter Irish, a quarter French,” we create these percentages, but they’re really based on such a general sense. And you think of how if you have green eyes or blue eyes in a family of brown eyes… it doesn’t have to do with percentages. It’s not like my eyes are 14% something. It’s the way that things that we inherit, aspects of our pasts, different people: something could come out and fully manifest in you that’s from somebody you didn’t even know that was part of your ancestry.  I want to undo the assumptions around who we are in order to embody and accept a much bigger sense of who we are. I’m not just this one thing, but I’m full of many things, I’m things I don’t even know but I am those things—our world is becoming more and more like that, the dissolution of borders. We’re becoming more and more complex.

It seems like your approach to this specific exhibit and to your art in general is very multidisciplinary, which is, in itself, a very complex approach. Is there something about the fact that you incorporate so many mediums to express these ideas that is itself expressing the idea of complexity, interconnectedness, and going beyond assumptions about what art is and having to fit yourself into some kind of a category? Or is that just an aspect of your art that kind of happened?

I think it’s a mix of both. You know, for myself as a person, I never felt one clear path. I think from early on, I had a drive to go many different directions. People advised me to just pick something or otherwise you’ll be a jack-of-all-trades and a master of none. And I ultimately just decided to be myself, I’m going to do all these things… and ultimately, that led to the founding of Red Poppy Art House. The space that I created is interdisciplinary and I think it’s that way because I sought to bring all those elements together, you know, music, visual art, poetry. It makes me think about how in our society we’re a very specialized culture, we specialize in order to play a specific role in an economic framework, and then you make money through that specialization and you support yourself. There’s a part of me that struggles with that, to say, well, there’s strengths to specializing. When you do that you lose things, too: “my mind can only focus on one thing and lacks what can be gained from experimenting.” I think you need both: you need specialists and generalists.

How many of these different elements are going to be in Inheritance? What can we expect to see in terms of media?

The exhibit is going to involve paintings with collage, and charcoal. All these pieces here [in my studio] are part of that exhibit. You can see the collage that I’m doing involving documents that are copies of leases for land in Africa. The Oakland Institute in June came out with major research about the corporate land-grabs that are happening in Africa. There are corporations that lease 600,000 hectares for 49 years, a dollar per hectare, all done very obscurely. I was talking to the director and I told him that I’d be interested in using these as part of a collage, because you have a certain history repeating itself. First we start with a slave ship, and then we have this, which is going on now. There’s a friend of mine who started a space in Chiapas, in Mexico, and there are people there who have been struggling with the issue of land. You know, the Mexican government in 1994 took out an article that was protected communal land. Indigenous people had been living on this land for thousands of years, meaning they don’t have a deed that says “we own this land” because they’ve been living on it for so long, and the nation can come in and say that the nation owns this land and sell it out from under the people to whatever company is going to develop it. And these communities just get pushed off the land, and that sort of deals with the issue of identity and otherness and non-entities in a sense. People appear to have no economic value, they can just be moved here and there.

If I think about my own personal experience, having a feeling of, “Where do I belong?”, times when I feel like an other, even when I’m at a party thinking “where do I fit?”… In high school, I had three friends who committed suicide – it was this kind of thing that has to do with self-negation, when you’re an other, when you struggle with where you fit, how does that personal narrative connect with a broader global narrative of global communities, of people that are dealing with self-negation or being negated where what is taught to them is, “You need to assimilate in order to be a part of this culture.” That’s how I make an unusual jump between where I came from and struggles that I hear in other parts of the world. It seems like a long jump.

A good metaphor is seeing yourself as a country, and within that country you have many selves. There’s a dominant group, then there’s all these minority groups on the periphery that aren’t given voice, that are denied space, that struggle to be heard, that just eventually become silent and don’t speak up anymore. It’s that little voice inside of me that says, “I want to do something different.” In terms of being an artist, it’s usually a creative side, and we’re taught to fulfill a working role. There’s a side of us that becomes marginalized: I’ve always wanted to dance, but I feel like I can’t. These parts of ourselves get marginalized.

And then when you think of it in terms of a biological inheritance—you kind of are a country in terms of how many people were required to make you. All the voices that came before are coming through. I don’t have an answer: this puts me in a space of wonder, and you don’t hear people talk about it that much, but it makes me curious, and it makes me understand myself and others in a different way. The bottom line is: what’s going to make us curious about each other?

We sum each other up.

So you want to encourage the recognition of the fact that there are many other alternative interpretations and ways to expand our views of the world and other people rather than just drawing conclusions?

In other words, inspirations to me—people and writers and things that I get inspired by—are often times people that feel marginalized in such a way that they have to find their own voice because they can’t buy into some collective narrative. And so a lot of times, there’s a dominant group and then another group gets marginalized, and then there’s a further marginalization that goes on. For instance, James Baldwin, who is one of my central influences—a queer, black Male writer of the 50s, 60s, and 70s who left the states to go live in Europe. In his writing, I hear that constant struggling with understanding identity in terms of the whole history of race. But at the same time, he himself is marginalized even within his own minority because he’s gay, because that just wasn’t acceptable at all at the time. It’s being a part of something but then you’re forced to think more deeply, because you think, “I am black, but I’m not just black.”  It’s like my friend who’s all about gay pride, and he’s like, “I am that, but sometimes I don’t want to necessarily just hold up a rainbow flag and just be that, whatever that perception is.” We are these things, and yet we’re more. We’re trying to find that place for the Moreness.

Please expand on “Moreness” and the theme of “spaces of encounter.” Where do these themes fit into Inheritance and your work as a whole?

You’re from somewhere, maybe your parents have different heritages, but whatever it is, you feel like you’re straddling the world. So, you can’t fully just be content with the world, you’re kind of between. Where do we create the space to allow that? How do we create a space that doesn’t force us to choose one narrow identity, but gives us space to keep experiencing the complexity of our own personal identities as well as that of other people? I connect with other things I learn about, things like the Zapatistas in South Mexico. It’s kind of the opposite of assimilation, where the expectation is that you need to be programmed in order to be a part of a society. Instead, we can create a space of encounter where I can show myself to you and you can show yourself to me. There’s no expectation that we should be like each other but instead we come to know each other, and in listening to you I get to understand myself better, because you’re different than me, and that helps me understand how I’m different.

Inheritance
September 16-23
Kimball Gallery, de Young, Golden Gate Park

Tuesday-Sunday, 9:30 am – 5:00 pm + Fridays until 8:30 pm
except Saturdays, 1:00-5:00 pm only
Please note: The exhibit opens at 6 pm on 9/16

Opening Reception
September 16, 6:00-8:30 pm
Artist Talk
September 23, 6:00-6:45 p.m.

Select works will be on display through September 30

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Artist Fellows in the Chronicle

Kevin Epps

Julian Guthrie of the San Francisco Chronicle visited the Artist Fellows on July 8 for their second showcase together. Throughout their fellowship, Kevin Epps, Campo Santo (directed by Sean San José), and Todd T. Brown will present pieces of their works in progress.

Renee Baldocchi explained this project to the Chronicle: “One of the unique components of this [program] is that the artists are actually coming into the museum and creating the work while they are in the museum. They are sharing the process with visitors as they create new work. The newness is really that most of the time, museums bring artists in after the work has been created.”

The series continues tonight, July 29, with Campo Santo performing a piece of “Block by Block,” paintings that will become part of the exhibit “Inheritance” by Todd T. Brown, and a peek into “Fam Bam,” the new film by Kevin Epps. It is thrilling to see what the artists have accomplished to date and to imagine what will be coming in the near future.

Read the full article on SF Gate

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“Invisible Passage” is back in the Kimball Gallery

Commissioned by the de Young Museum’s Cultural Encounters Program during
Todd Brown’s July 2009 tenure as Artist-in-Residence, Invisible Passage is now back on display at the Kimball Gallery as part of his current Artist Fellows project. The painting, measuring 33 feet by 9.5 feet, is Brown’s largest work to date.

Todd T. Brown working on Invisible Passage in July 2009

As a mediation on “collective” history, the painting invokes the complex interweave of human stories/histories that ripple across generations and are playing themselves out in today’s world. While Invisible Passage references a specific past–that of the “middle passage,” as endured by African slaves and their exploiters over the course of more than 400 years, Brown states that this work is intended to encourage us to look more deeply into the present world around us, to see into its layers, layers that seem infinite in number and kind. He proposes the idea that generations do not live in succession, one after another, but, rather, each lives through the next, thereby making past and present a unified field–our stories (histories) have made us, and yet we are all the time engaged in the creative act of remaking the world over–the history to come.

During these next two months in the Artist Studio, Brown will be developing new works and curating a series of performances that explore the theme of making the “invisible” visible.

– Claudia Schidlow, Public Programs

White guy paints 33-foot slave ship and hangs it in a museum. . .
reflections from the artist

     The question comes up often as to why I chose to paint this large painting based on the diagram of the inside deck of a 1700’s slave ship. The question, however, is often less about the piece itself, than it is about my relationship to this specific content as a white artist exploring a theme that is generally looked upon as part of black history in the Americas. I find it helpful to speak to this issue directly as, in so doing, many more directions in conversation and dialog can take shape.
     I think it’s fair observation to say that when a black American artist paints a slave ship, the viewer naturally assumes that the artist is exploring, in one way or another, the subject matter of his/her heritage. However, if the artist is white, this assumption– that of the exploration of one’s heritage–does not carry over, though the ships of the African slave trade were designed, built and sailed, mostly by European whites and therefore constitute part of their racial heritage. In other words, it’s unlikely that work of a white artist painting a slave ship would be seen as an investigation into “white” history. I mention this because it reveals some interesting assumptions about how we view these intensely charged historical symbols, but also, more specifically, because I wish for us to see beyond these singular narratives. I think of the writer James Baldwin’s insistence that our (American) history is a shared history–that the idea of either side (black or white) possessing a purity blood is a fiction–and that this shared history has literally, even biologically, bound us to one another now and forever. It is with this sentiment that I engage this subject matter, for I do indeed feel bound to the many and multiple peoples that have come to be a part of this country where I was born. Our lives are saturated with the realities of the others around us, near and far, by both blood and economics, and of course, also, by love. When I invoke the image of a slave ship, I am invoking something deeply personal that lives as a root in the ground of the culture that formed me, and in doing this so too do I feel keenly aware of the cultures that came, and were destroyed, before it. Like many other artists, I am obsessed with understanding this ground.  How else can we come to know exactly where we stand in this strange world and living that we’ve inherited?

Brown re-installing Invisible Passage in the Kimball Gallery in June 2011
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Artist Fellows Showcase

Last Friday, visitors who attended Friday Nights at the de Young had the chance to experience the Artist Fellows Showcase, which featured contributions from the first class of Artist Fellows: Campo Santo, Kevin Epps, and Todd T. Brown.  The Koret Auditorium was transformed into a dynamic space of interdisciplinary exploration and expressionwith three pieces that brought you into a hip-hop theater collective, onto the streets of Oakland, and into the sights and sounds of Africa and South Asia.

Campo Santo’s Carlos Aguirre kicked off the evening with a beat boxing performance that was so incomprehensively realistic that he had the entire audience moving, cheering, laughing, and scratching their heads at this human drum machine.  The whole space was filled with noises, melodies, and infectious rhythms, all from the mouth of the charismatic Aguirre, who impressed the audience not only with his beat boxing but also with his physical presence.

Next up was a pair of short documentaries from Kevin Epps. Jailed on Principle told the story of videographer Josh Wolf who filmed a series of riots in the Mission and eventually turned himself in to Federal Custody.  Next up was Popped in Oakland, an emotional look at the ever-constant issue of violence in the East Bay. The mood in the Koret shifted as the attendants were shown sides of the Bay Area that are difficult to face, but Epps’ pieces tell these stories with an immediacy and honesty that garnered a palpable sense of passion and awareness among the audience members.

The evening ended with Nefasha Ayer Trio. The mood shifted once again as a video projection by Brandon Eversole and Ariane Wu played as a backdrop to the band, with an ethereal play of images from a recent tour of Ethiopia. The music began and an entire world opened up. The playful vocals of Meklit Hadero and the fluid rhythms of Prasant Radhakrishnan’s saxophone and Todd Brown’s guitar mixed languages and genres, with international influences ranging from South Asia to the Americas.

We hope that you had the chance to make it down for this glimpse of the work by our Artist Fellows, but you will have many more opportunities in the months to come, as the artists present works-in-progress and, finally, premieres of their final works, in the fall. Join them on Fridays in the Kimball Artist Studio at the de Young from 6:00-8:30 p.m. and check the website and blog for information on the Artist Fellows and other upcoming events.

– David Shultz, Public Programs, writer
– Claudia Schidlow, Public Programs, videographer

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Opening Reception

Thank you, everyone, for an amazing night on Friday, June 24 for the Artist Fellows Meet and Greet and Opening Reception. We hope you made it, but, if not, enjoy this little taste of what you missed and of what’s to come…

Meet and Greet photos

Visit the studio Friday Nights from 6:00-8:30 p.m.
to see what’s happening. It’s a working studio – most of the works aren’t finished, they might be rough around the edges, but take a glimpse or take a dive into the artistic process and find out where the Artist Fellows are headed. On Friday Nights, the artists host salons, film screenings and works-in-progress.

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