COURTESY SHELLEY AND DONALD RUBIN COLLECTION“Sin titulo

Renovated MoAD bigger, better

The Museum of the African Diaspora has reopened its doors after a six-month closure for renovation. With upgrades to its interior and a Smithsonian Institution affiliation now to its name, the 9-year-old museum is set to enhance its community presence and national distinction.

“An urban provocative place to be” is how MoAD executive director Linda Harrison described the museum at last week’s ribbon-cutting event.

The $1.3 million Gensler-designed makeover features an entry area designed to make efficient use of outdoor sunlight; attractions include a diaspora-themed screen, a gift shop and places to sit. Upstairs, gallery and public-programming space has been expanded.

A recently acquired affiliation with the Smithsonian also boosts MoAD’s draw. This association with the venerated national museum center will allow MoAD to present significant traveling shows and to access the Smithsonian collection for exhibits and research.

MoAD originally opened in December 2005, and, since then, it has established itself as a staple presence in San Francisco’s Yerba Buena arts hub and as an institution devoted to sharing experiences of a common African heritage.

Current exhibits include two shows collectively reflecting MoAD’s desire to showcase local artists, examine African influence worldwide and serve as what Harrison described as a place where all can explore personal African connections.

“Lava Thomas: Beyond,” running through April 5, features works in various media by the locally based Thomas, whose art involves memory, humanity and transcendence.

Hair is a frequent subject for Thomas, whose grandmother, a major influence in her life, was a hairdresser. Thomas says she uses hair as a “calligraphic mark” in her art and as a symbol of wisdom possessed by women whose stories often go unrecognized.

Items on view include a hair-themed graphite-on-paper work titled “Lavaialle” and a photographic installation of “Cloudscape Portraits.” Thomas describes the latter as a reflection of her grandmother’s spiritual belief in transcendence and a “metaphor for the disembodied time we spend online.”

Afro-Cuban experiences are the focus of “Drapetomania,” which is on view through Jan. 4. Curated by Harvard scholar Alejandro de la Fuente, the show celebrates Grupo Antillano, a 1970s-80s group of long-unsung Cuban artists whose work demonstrates how African traditions have shaped Cuban culture.

“Sin titulo,” an oil painting by artist and political revolutionary Manuel Couceiro Prado, is among the works on view. “Serie Cabezas,” a mixed-media piece by significant Cuban artist Manuel Mendive (who is influenced by the Santeria religion) addresses social issues. “Resurreccion,” a sculpture featuring a wooden angel, is by Rafael Queneditt, a primary force behind Grupo Antillano’s creation.

IF YOU GO

Museum of the African Diaspora

Where: 685 Mission St., S.F.

When: 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Wednesday-Saturdays, noon to 5 p.m. Sundays

Tickets: $5 to $10; free for children 12 and under

Contact: (415) 358-7200, www.moadsf.org

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