Tuan Nguyen’s 2019 “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming” is a video installation detailing effects of colonialism. (Courtesy Tuan Nguyen and James Cohan)

‘Soft Power’ showcases world-changing art

SFMOMA exhibition inspires visitors to take political action

Contemporary artists explore how, as creative forces and active citizens, they can help fix the world in “Soft Power,” a stimulating exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.

Curated by Eungie Joo and on view on the fourth and seventh floors, the exhibit includes 58 recent works, about one-fourth SFMOMA-commissioned, by 20 international artists addressing social, environmental and political problems and the histories underlying them.

The exhibit both showcases such artwork — most featured pieces have never before been displayed in the United States — and aims to inspire viewers to get involved in constructive causes.

The title reflects a contemporary interpretation of a Reagan-era term referring to how, in terms of international relations, cultural and political values can be more influential than coercion or physical force.

Featured works include “The Specter of Ancestors Becoming,” Tuan Andrew Nguyen’s video installation. Created through collaborations with members of Senegal’s Vietnamese community who are descendants of French colonial soldiers who fought in Vietnam, the project features fictional stagings reflecting imagined scenarios and illustrates the reverberations of colonialism.

Walking is a political act for Minerva Cuevas, whose “Crossing the Rio Bravo” features objects — rocks, a map, a compass, petrified wood — that document her trek across the Rio Grande and convey the dangers migrants face when crossing the Chihuahuan Desert.

Also by Cuevas, and bound to attract attention, is “The discovery of invisible nature,” a mural referencing the Smokey the Bear campaign and addressing capitalism’s effect on California fire management.

“The treaty is in the body,” a silent video by Tanya Lukin Linklater, documents a gathering in which Omaskeko Cree knowledge keeper Jennifer Wabano and other female community members discussed how treaties have affected indigenous people.

Duane Linklater’s “Can the circle be unbroken 2” features linen canvases based on teepee covers and considers how European art has influenced indigenous designs.

Photographs from LaToya Ruby Frazier’s “Flint Is Family, Part II” series reference the Michigan city’s water crisis and depict a scenario suggesting the Great Migration reversed — a return to the South.

LaToya Ruby Frazier’s “Shea and Zion drinking a sip of water from their freshwater spring, Jasper County, Newton, Mississippi” is from the photographer’s 2017 series “Flint is Family II.” (Courtesy LaToya Ruby Frazier and Gavin Brown’s enterprise)

“Retainer,” Nairy Baghramian’s large installation resembling an orthodontic device, reflects the artist’s interests in power, architecture, instability and the body.

Nairy Baghramian’s 2012 mixed media sculpture “Retainer” is among the works on view in SFMOMA’s “Soft Power.” (Courtesy Nairy Baghramian)

Eamon Ore-Giron, whose geometric abstract paintings reflect influences ranging from Amazonian tapestries to Vasily Kandinsky, is represented by works from his “Infinite Regress” series.

Also on view are components of Tavares Strachan’s “Invisibilities” series, featuring underacknowledged subjects; a chapter of a Carlos Motta project about LGBTQI Dreamers; Xaviera Simmons’ extra-large painting installation inspired by Jacob Lawrence’s “Migration Series”; and Hassan Khan’s “The Infinite Hip-Hop Song,” which includes an algorithmic hip-hop generator and headphones.


Soft Power

Where: San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, floors 4 and 7, 151 Third St., S.F.

When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily (except closed Wednesdays and to 9 p.m. Thursdays and Saturdays); through Feb. 17

Tickets: $29 to $25; free for 18 and younger

Contact: (415) 357-4000, www.sfmoma.org

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