Northern California Picks from Christopher Alam

Cliff Notes

Each week our regional Cliff Notes columnists Christopher AlamSharon ArnoldDemian DinéYazhi’, and Gabrielle Lawrence pick the most exciting events and exhibitions on the West Coast.

Various Artists: Bloom شكوفه
Refugee Eye Gallery, San Francisco, CA 
March 4 – May 6

Refugee Eye Gallery is celebrating its one year anniversary with this show featuring refugee and immigrant Iranian visual artists based in the Bay Area. Dedicated to the women and men who have died in the ongoing Iranian protests, the work of this exhibition reflects on the fight for freedom, displacement, and self realization. Among the multimedia displays will be the work of the prominent painter and sculptor Bahman Mohassess (1931-2010), as well as his niece, author Rooja Mohassessy. Also featured are Azin Seraj, sisters Behnaz and Baharak Khaleghi (BSisters), Maryam Tohidi, and ceramicist Zahra Hooshyar. Through these artists, we can see how a community blooms across barriers and distance. Especially when combatting restrictive regimes, creating art can often be a matter of life or death. Throughout this exhibit one must wonder what was at stake with each decision. 

Reflection: In areas of the world facing upheavals and death, there are artists. In areas where it is deadly to create art, there are artists. Consider why this is, and what it says about the urge to create.

Amalia Mesa-Bains: Archaeology of Memory
Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA), Berkeley, CA
February 4 – July 23

BAMPFA honors living artist Amalia Mesa-Bains with this retrospective, tracing over thirty years of the 79-year-old artist’s career. As a leading figure of Chicana art, several of her well-known “altar-installations” based on home altars and ofrendas will be featured, along with her multimedia work, prints, and books. Mesa-Bains is known for her works engaging with Mexican American womens’ spirituality, traditions, and addressing the impact of colonial history on our concept of cultural memory. When it comes to art rooted in customs and symbolism, it is important to remember how these installations stand for resistance and reclamation of a collective identity. Similar to the last entry on displaced Iranian artists, it is this individual expression of a collective experience that makes the contributions of so many more visible. 

Reflection: How is your community uplifted when you tell your story?

Events are back!!!

We ~ FINALLY ~ figured out a solution to the technical issue with the events listing plugin, which means we can once again share the details of all your incredible art happenings across the West Coast!

The events database is starting from scratch, so thanks to everyone who has posted an event so far. Keep checking back for more and more listings as we refill to coffers of regional art events.

A few new things to note:

  1. It’s still free to post your event(s) because we hate gatekeeping
  2. You now have the option to set up an account to manage your event posts
  3. We will no longer be reviewing events before posting them
  4. The posting/submission process is a little different but very user friendly! Get in touch if you have any questions at
  5. We will no longer be sharing all events on our Instagram. It was an enormous amount of work and to be honest our tiny team of two people just doesn’t have the capacity to keep it up. Check out our advertising page for information on paid partnerships that elevate your news and keep this resource alive!

Ready to post your event? Get started here!

CSAW is going strong!

ENORMOUS thanks to everyone who has already contributed to the pitches listed on CSAW! It’s an experiment in grassroots and community-funded art writing that I (Amelia) really think could make a difference. We’re going to be continually adding pitches to the page, so check back and find more writing you want to support directly!

We have two beautiful pitches already in the works:

Artist interview

Se Young Au

Cost: $300
Writer: $150
Editor/Admin: $150

Writer: Monica Uszerowicz

Los Angeles-based artist Se Young Au, who has a background in photography, works at an unusual intersection of that medium, collage, and scent/olfaction—often utilizing the space she’s carved between all three to address issues around loss, whether through death, the disappearing of bodies via the prison industrial complex, or the loss of place through the adoption industrial complex (Se Young is a Korean adoptee herself). Consider the works on view at a recent exhibition, A Clearing, at the Institute for Art and Olfaction Gallery in Los Angeles: a draped, cadmium-green textile featuring digitally altered photographs Se Young had taken of various flora, arranged into a landscape—a reference to photographic backdrops typical in prison visiting areas; a convex mirror referencing the surveillance systems of these institutions; hunks of brick carrying the scent of soft, wet earth.

While the show spotlighted some of the harsher realities of the prison industrial complex, it was also transportive. At Varyer, she writes and shares visual work in her Transmissions columns, in which she reflects on scent and color as portals—ways to tap into memory, contend with grief, find entry points to transcendence. I’ve been following her work for a long time (one of my notes about her poppier collages—flowers, fruit—reads, “delicious juicy explosive fruit, digital fantasies, love”) and have been wanting to discuss these topics in-depth.

Fund this interview

Exhibition review

Marcel Alcalá
The Performance of Being
Night Gallery
Los Angeles, CA

Cost: $300
Writer: $150
Editor/Admin: $150

Writer: Angella d’Avignon

The Performance of Being, Marcel Alcalá’s new series of oil paintings on view at Night Gallery in Los Angeles features symbols and references from the artist’s own Mexican-American heritage and queer community and centers these experiences as art historical. From a sequined drag queen to a lone coyote, Alcalá’s subjects or “main characters”  scenes of both quotidian and mythical proportions, taking psychedelic hero’s journeys through the sparkling grid of east Los Angeles and across the wilds of Baja California. Time collapses between Alcalá’s religious childhood, their recent experiences, and speculative futures. Pulling compositional cues from Matisse and El Greco, bright saturated color builds drama with subtlety (a corner in a bedroom becomes an altar appointed with pink tulips, for example), combining the aesthetics of Santería, Catholicism, and drag, Alcalá plucks the strange and beautiful details from their life and uses painting as a practice of transcendence. 

In this review, I’ll compare Alcalá’s work with the specific aesthetic tradition of drag, flash, and ritual, with the broader context of diasporic cultures, performance as storytelling, and the semiotics of living in Los Angeles.

Fund this review

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