Identity, and people put forth their unique and infinitely complicated selves to the world, is examined in a wide-ranging exhibition of interactive experiences and thought-provoking displays at the Exploratorium.
Science, technology, art, history, sociology, psychology and popular culture are on the bill in “Self, Made: Exploring You in a World of We,” an all-ages show put together by the Exploratorium and guest collaborators.
Running through Sept. 2 at the science museum, the exhibition is described by the Exploratorium’s Melissa Alexander as a “set of playful and substantive experiences that will enable visitors to have rewarding conversations about race, gender, privilege and empathy.”
Interactive attractions include “Gender Blender,” in which visitors digitally assemble characters from entertaining visual components relating to clothes, hair and demeanor. They decide if the results look masculine, feminine or both, and ask themselves why they’ve made that assessment.
In “Born This Way,” partners consider each other’s traits in terms of the ever-fascinating nature-or-nurture question.
In “Mixed Bag,” privilege is addressed.
“Are you an introvert or an extrovert?” another attraction asks.
Some exhibits focus on ethnic identity or on the consequences of discrimination and bias. Subjects in this arena include laws forbidding interracial marriage (which existed in some U.S. states until 1967); the shifts that have occurred in the collection of race-related census data; and housing-market practices that determine who receives, and who is denied, a home loan.
A section on sexuality features gender identities that defy rigid norms in climates ranging from accepting to hateful.
A drag-themed display highlights the Cockettes, the San Francisco troupe of hippie, psychedelic, gender-bending performers that arrived on the scene in 1969.
A biology section looks at cell research and related ethical issues. Are your cells still “you” if they continue living after you die? An informative exhibit about the HeLa cell line acquaints viewers with Henrietta Lacks, the cancer patient whose cells, taken from her in the early 1950s, without her knowledge or consent, have long shaped biological research.
Art exhibits contain work by Kehinde Wiley, who painted the official White House portrait of Barack Obama, and Melissa Cody, a Navajo weaver who combines Native American traditions with contemporary styles.
Brazilian photographer Angelica Dass’ “Humanae,” a traveling work-in-progress, challenges the practice of categorization according to skin color.
Afro-Arab and Canadian artist Esmaa Mohamoud uses sports identities to examine race and gender.
Treasured personal objects, contributed by adult English-language learners from City College of San Francisco, make for a particularly moving showcase.
Exhibits involving popular culture include Oscar-winning costumes created by Ruth E. Carter for the film “Black Panther.”
Also look for an attraction allowing visitors, via virtual technology, to try on innovative garments created by Oakland fashion-design students.
IF YOU GO
Self, Made: Exploring You in a World of We
Where: Exploratorium, Pier 15, Embarcadero at Green Street, S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily, except until 10 p.m. Thursdays (for ages 18 and older); closes Sept. 2
Price: $19.95 to $29.95; free for ages 3 and under
Contact: (415) 528-4444, www.exploratorium.edu