The Continuous Thread
Opening reception: Friday, October 4, 6:00 - 8:00 p.m.
On April 5 and 6, the San Francisco Arts Commission hosted over 150 members of the Bay Area’s Indigenous community to be photographed on top of the empty plinth that, until recently, held the Early Days component of the Pioneer Monument in San Francisco’s Civic Center. The sculpture was removed in September 2018 in response to decades of community objections to its racist and historically inaccurate depiction of Indigenous Peoples. Three photographers, Britt Bradley, Jean Melesaine, and Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, captured the two-day event turned community celebration and reclamation of the site. The Early Days photo project empowered the local Indigenous community to challenge the way that they are seen in the public realm and was the precursor for the Arts Commission's Citywide American Indian Initiative. The photographs comprise the San Francisco Arts Commission Galleries’ latest exhibition The Continuous Thread: Celebrating our Interwoven Histories, Identities and Contributions.
According to exhibition curator Carolyn Melenani Kuali’i, “Resistance and resilience have been at the forefront of our community since the dawn of foreign agents and settler-colonialism. And we are still here, never losing sight of both who we are and also that our cultural traditions and spirituality are our greatest weapons!”
The exhibition, which opens on October 4, officially kicks off the Arts Commission’s American Indian Initiative that includes exhibitions, a temporary projection project, public celebrations, concerts, a film festival, a fashion show, and over 14 community partners. The Initiative, orchestrated by Barbara Mumby, director of the Arts Commission’s Community Investments Program, coincides with the 50th Anniversary of the Occupation of Alcatraz, the one-year anniversary of the City’s first Indigenous People’s Day and the anniversary of the removal of the Early Days sculpture.
SFAC Galleries Director Meg Shiffler says, “We’re incredibly proud to memorialize this important moment in the City’s history with an exhibition that showcases the strength, diversity and vitality of our regional Indigenous community through an epic documentary undertaking by three important Indigenous women artists.”
In addition to appearing in the SFAC Galleries’ The Continuous Thread, Melesaine’s portraits are the sole focus of Reclaiming Space: Projected Portraits of the American Indian Community, a temporary light-art project initiated by Jill Manton, San Francisco Arts Commission’s Director of the Public Art Trust and Special Initiatives. Melesaine’s portraits will be projected onto the facades of the Asian Art Museum and San Francisco Main Library, on Fulton Street between Larkin and Hyde, facing the Pioneer Monument. An honorific and respectful tribute to Indigenous Peoples, these powerful portraits purify and reclaim the site from its long association with indignity and imbue it with hope for a more equitable future. Made possible by the Public Art Trust, the projections will debut on October 4, coinciding with the opening reception for The Continuous Thread, and will run from dusk to dawn for a period of one week.
Image credit: Hulleah J. Tsinhnahjinnie, Antone Family (Tohono O'odham), 2019. Left to right: Melanie, Christine [seated], Michelle, and Arianna.