Oakland Museum of California’s ‘Hella Feminist’ Exhibit Grieves, Celebrates, and Provokes


Katherine Sherwood, Olympia, 2014. Courtesy of the artist and Walter Maciel Gallery, Los Angeles. © Katherine Sherwood

In a world the place the that means of “feminism” is more and more being questioned by these on each the precise and the left, considerate contemplative examinations of its historical past and future could be laborious to seek out. However the Oakland Museum of California’s “Hella Feminist” exhibition does simply that. 

“We weren’t occupied with providing a corridor of type of heroes of that period,” stated Derendina Delgadillo, OMCA’s former Affiliate Curator of historical past, who curated the exhibition in collaboration with artwork curator Carin Adams ​​and studying, expertise and programming supervisor Lisa Silberstein. The results of their interdisciplinary collaboration is a showcase that doesn’t draw back from the messier components of feminist histories—whereas concurrently lifting up the forgotten histories of Bay Space feminist icons which have gone untold. In a time the place censorship of those extra controversial histories is rampant, it’s an intervention that meets the second. 

“The group facet felt actually necessary,” Delgadillo tells Ms. “It’s one other tenet of this second we’re in—it feels central that we focus away from the person, and in the direction of the collective, in the direction of a shared expertise moderately than simply particular person pursuits or wants.”

Left: Unknown, 1954. Assortment of the Oakland Museum of California. Buy from the Property of Marcenia Lyle Alberga, a.ok.a. Toni (Tomboy) Stone. Proper: The Oakland Tribune Assortment, the Oakland Museum of California. Reward of ANG Newspapers. © The Oakland Museum of California

Whereas the exhibition was initially slated to go up in 2020, to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment which secured the precise to vote for (white) ladies, the COVID-19 pandemic delayed the exhibit considerably. However the curators inform Ms. that it was a blessing in disguise—giving them the chance to revisit the gathering, and re-tool it for the present second. Initially conceived in a post-Me-Too second context, the shadow of Roe v. Wade‘s recent reversal now hangs over the gallery, lending it a brand new urgency.

The result’s an exhibition that isn’t only a showcase of “feminist art work”—it goes deeper, tapping into native histories spanning centuries, cultures, and viewpoints. Divided into sections demarcating “thoughts,” “physique” and “spirit,” which discover other ways we work together with feminism on a private and structural degree, the present goes past easy framings of feminism as a single cohesive motion, or the linear understanding of feminist “waves.”

Xandra Ibarra, She’s On the Rag/Rorschach Check 1, 2018. Courtesy of the artist Xandra Ibarra, 6/2018, from the She’s On The Rag menstrual blood sequence (2013-current). © Xandra Ibarra

“Hella Feminist” additionally leans into the significance of native histories and group—the exhibition pulls closely from the museum’s assortment of artifacts, and its creation was knowledgeable by what the curators name a “convening” of native artists and thinkers. From this collaboration emerge a sequence of tales that the viewer could by no means have in any other case realized about—as an illustration, the story of Katherine “Kitty” Smith, a previously enslaved lady who got here to California and constructed a brand new life for herself in Oakland.

“We began out with a very intentional constraint to tug from our assortment for historic artifacts,” Adams informed Ms. “So in some methods, the journey of this exhibition was realizing what this establishment doesn’t maintain, and and find out how to take issues that had not ever been placed on view earlier than, and positively hadn’t been interpreted by way of the lens of feminism.” The result’s a rigorously curated house that feels much less like a gallery and extra like an immersive expertise—from the historic photographs of working ladies, to Angela Hennessy’s large sculptures created from hair and steel, to a whole wall of portraits of feminist heroes by artist Miriam Klein Stahl (the illustrator behind Rad American Women A-Z ). 

Viewers stand in entrance of WORK by Miriam Klein Stahl and Kate Schatz. (Oliver Haug)

The COVID-19 delays additionally allowed the curators the chance to raised reply to the elemental adjustments in abortion rights and entry that came about through each state-level bans and the current Supreme Courtroom ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson. In re-convening the artists and group members whose assembly initially guided the exhibit, they are saying that overwhelmingly everybody wanted an area to carry the grief and heavy emotions they’d been working by way of.

In response, the exhibit now features a cellphone line the place guests can depart messages of help and share their very own tales, in addition to areas for meditation and reflection, together with an altar. “We wished a recognition that once more, we could also be right here in California, however we actually really feel for our fellow lady, particular person, human,” Delgadillo informed Ms. “We wished to offer a chance to acknowledge that, and to attempt to work it by way of—which isn’t one thing we at all times have, particularly in Western society lately.”

A number of of the items commissioned for the exhibition additionally invoke group ties and the therapeutic nature of being collectively by way of instances of ache and trauma. Museoexclusion Exorcism from artist Tanya Aguiñiga, which was commissioned for the needs of the exhibition, incorporates tales from members of the artist’s group—starting from ceramic creations to undergarments to literal textual content message exchanges, all woven into an enormous wall hanging that envelops the viewer. 

Altogether, the exhibition’s tales weave collectively deftly to seize the complexities of feminism on this present second, whereas additionally de-centering the dominant narratives which have traditionally erased the work of feminist artists and activists of colour. “Navigating the complexities of feminism and and making an attempt to de-center whiteness and make it extra sophisticated, simply acknowledge it for the complexity that it bears, is one thing that we’re making an attempt to don’t simply in what we’ve got on view, but in addition in experiences for those that we’ve crafted,” Adams famous. 

“And modeling that that is an ongoing dialog, leaving as many open ends as attainable, and an invite to proceed that dialog, hopefully in a means that’s generative and human centered,” Delgadillo added. “We wished it to be extra of a provocation than a publication.”

“Hella Feminist” is on view on the Oakland Museum of California in Oakland, California from July 2022-January 2023. Click here to learn more

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