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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

YBCA Explores Art And Activism in Take This Hammer

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 12:30 PM

click to enlarge Oree Originol Justice for Our Lives, 2014 - COURTESY OF YBCA
  • Courtesy of YBCA
  • Oree Originol Justice for Our Lives, 2014

A new exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts that showcases activism through art and media in the San Francisco Bay Area, gets its name, Take This Hammer, from a 1963 documentary about the author James Baldwin as he went around San Francisco, talking to African-Americans about what it was like for them in the city.

Guest curator Christian L. Frock likes Baldwin’s work and says she thinks with the general political climate there’s a lot of interest in what the author of Go Tell It On the Mountain and The Fire Next Time has to say. The title made her think of playwright Bertolt Brecht’s quote, “Art is not a mirror held up to reality but a hammer with which to shape it.” She also felt that title got across the impact of the show and that it’s a not just a passive experience.

“It has this promise of shared authorship and change,” she said. “That we’re going to do this together.”

Frock has been writing for years about art, social justice, and the Internet as a medium for social justice, and says she feels grateful for the trust YBCA’s executive director Deborah Cullinan put in her inviting her to organize this exhibition.

“The only thing she said was to look at the movement of creative work coming out of the Bay Area,” Frock said. “She didn’t have any specific artists in mind.”

Frock did. Right away she thought of 3.9 Art Collective, a group of African-American writers, curators and artists; Persia, a drag queen who used to perform at the now closed Esta Noche in the Mission; and Pitch Interactive, a data visualization studio.

click to enlarge PERSIA featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik,  Google Google Apps Apps, 2013 - COURTESY OF THE ARTISTS
  • Courtesy of the artists
  • PERSIA featuring Daddie$ Pla$tik, Google Google Apps Apps, 2013
“I knew from the beginning that I wanted to complicate the narrative of what is visual art and who belongs in a museum,” she said. “Most people don’t think about music or poetry for example, and with data visualization, so much is so beautifully rendered.”

The Anti-Eviction Mapping Project, which also does data visualization as well as digital storytelling collective that documents displacement in the Bay Area is also part of the show.

Their founder, Erin McElroy, has an interesting background, Frock says.

click to enlarge Jesus Barraza, Viva La Mujer, 2014 - COURTESY OF DIGNIDAD REBELDE
  • Courtesy of Dignidad Rebelde
  • Jesus Barraza, Viva La Mujer, 2014
“She’s a self taught coder who learned it by standing at a Barnes and Noble reading books,” she said. “Their work is really very much about visualization, and there’s an oral history in the show with 160 clips of people talking about displacement.”

Other artists in Take This Hammer include Oree Originol, known for his portraits of people killed by the police; the founder of the Black Lives Matter-Bay Area chapter, Cat Brooks; and Dignidad Rebelde, a graphic arts collaboration between Melanie Cervantes and Jesus Barraza.


The Bay Area has a legacy of social justice movements, Frock says – the Black Panthers, the Free Speech movement at the University of California, Berkeley, and LGBTQ rights among them – and she thinks it’s important to look at how what’s going on here affects the culture of resistance.

“The Bay Area is going through a particularly interesting moment with tech and new wealth coming here,” she said. “I don’t think we’re in a bubble – I think this is the way it is now. San Francisco and the Bay Area are an important breeding ground for social justice, and when that’s compromised, how does it impact the Bay Area and the country at large?”

Take This Hammer, through August 14, YBCA, 701 Mission, $8-10, 415-978-2787.

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Emily Wilson

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