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Artists of color reclaim heritage in ‘Black Woman is God’

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Collages by Kytana Winn are among the works in “The Black Woman Is God: Assembly of Gods” at SOMArts through Oct. 2. (Courtesy Nye’ Lynn Tho)

Having established firm roots, defying gravity, resisting withering and growing in leaps and bounds, “The Black Woman is God: Assembly of Gods” is a movement whose time has come.

Positioning more than 50 multi generational black women artists beyond the restraints of Eurocentric constructs and social archetypes, the fifth annual exhibition (in its third year at SOMArts gallery in The City), showcases sculpture, painting, new media and photography by emerging and established artists.

“The exhibit is a reclaiming, a returning to our ancestral heritage,” says founder and co-curator Karen Seneferu. “It is a commingling of various cultural narratives that reprogram our intellectual, spiritual and cultural terrains.”

Rebuilding culture through the arts, she suggests, is essential. “Black people must love themselves; love is a revolutionary act, for it resists annihilation.”

Related events include artist talks, workshops, performances and, among new added programming in Oakland this year, an ancillary exhibit of work by black male artists.

Seneferu says she and co-curator Melorra Green are “not just showing artwork, but tapping into the unseen and reactivating the need for culture, art, love and healing that we are generating here in Northern California.”

Colorful multimedia collages by 22-year-old Kytana Winn — with complex, intellectual women with unwavering gazes — take the Pan-African diaspora into the realm of space and science fiction.

Meanwhile, Mary Lovelace O’Neal delivers abstraction and visceral intensity in “Racism is Like Rain. Either it’s raining or it’s gathering somewhere.” In the oil painting, a cloud of color pushes into a flat, gray-painted surface, demanding attention to texture, brush stroke, impending tumult.

Coming from artists of different generations, both works declare racism in America is no less a viral, destructive force in 2018 than it was in 1993, the year O’Neal created her formative work. Eyes-wide-open is the only way to approach tomorrow, to pursue change.

Seneferu says the exhibit’s concepts relating to black women’s strength, resilience, vitality and hope when expressed through art allow people to imagine the self beyond conventional bias and definitions.

Slowly, but gathering momentum due to the success of “The Black Woman is God” and Richmond Art Center’s annual “Art of Living Black” exhibit in the East Bay, Seneferu says presenters want to show work that goes beyond honoring only white history.

Pointing to Oakland art spaces run by Thelma Harris, Ashara Ekundayo and Anyka Barber, Seneferu says, “I am grateful that these black women-run galleries recognize the importance of the exhibition to the community,” adding, “There are so many creative women and now men in the Bay Area that want to be involved and all of them can’t fit into SOMArts Gallery.”

For example, on display through Oct. 2 at San Francisco Human Rights Commission offices at 25 Van Ness Ave. is “Natural Heritage Hair: An African Diasporan Photo Expose,” a collection of portraits which shed light on the ongoing social and political implications of black and brown women wearing natural hairstyles.

IF YOU GO
The Black Woman is God: Assembly of Gods
Where: SOMArts, 934 Brannan St., S.F.
When: Noon to 7 p.m. Tuesdays-Fridays, noon to 5 p.m. Saturdays; closes Oct. 2
Admission: Free
Contact: www.somarts.org
EVENTS
Artists’ talk: 1 to 4 p.m. Sept. 15
Closing reception: 6 to 9 p.m. Sept. 27

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