The San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery in the Veterans Building is set to open its doors for the first time since March 2020.
How do shifts in the land use of cities and neighborhoods impact populations, and in turn, how do the people that live or work in a place influence or control change? Taking Place: Untold Stories of the City unearths histories, legacies and points of erasure in the Civic Center, Bayview-Hunters Point and the Presidio. The exhibition features new work by Mansur Nurullah, the 2020-21 SFAC Artist in Residence at SF Planning, artist and storyteller Trina Michelle Robinson, and Hannah Waiters, an artist, researcher and current Collections Cataloging Fellow at the de Young.
For the past year and a half, Mansur Nurullah and SF Planning Senior Amnon Ben-Pazi have taken weekly bike rides in the Central, South, and Southeast corridors of San Francisco. The rides, which began during Shelter in Place, visited sites of past, proposed, and scheduled development. Nurullah and Ben-Pazi often engaged the residents of these spaces in conversation. One of the locations, a triangular parcel of land in Hunters Point, became the focus of Nurullah's project for his residency. The space has social significance to the people who use it but is under threat because of imminent development. Nurullah's elaborate textile works consider the historic, current, and proposed land use of this space, informed by those most affected by change. The works in the exhibition represent the first reflections of his residency and the foundation of a long-term project about the promises (realized and broken) of urban development.
Trina Michelle Robinson has been researching the history of her great-great uncle William J. French (1885-1932) for over twenty years. The works in Taking Place begin the public telling of his story as an accomplished WWI officer stationed and eventually buried at the Presidio. After his death, it was discovered that William spent eighteen years of his adult life and entire military career passing as white. Robinson's video and 2D works center on a hidden family narrative and also the overlooked coverage of the story of African-American media outlets that invokes an examination of historic and present day systemic and individual racism, erasure and (re)emergence, and access to resources and opportunity.
Hannah Waiters' site-specific installation Phantasmagoria, foregrounded by a panoramic photographic mural, along with a suspended proscenium of branches and hanging costumes, proposes the insertion of everyday fashion into fine art, historical, and civic collections. Viewers are encouraged to contribute to the installation by documenting, with photography and other media, the contemporary fashions that they encounter through curated walks in the Civic Center neighborhood, thus building a multimedia collection of images that represent a multiplicity of personal styles across a diverse range of class and cultural backgrounds. This participatory project reimagines collecting practices and the historicization of objects and maps how the absence of everyday fashion and visual culture in collections has traditionally erased the representation of marginalized communities and impacted their sense of belonging.
Image credit: Mansur Nurullah, Covid, George, Allies, and Distance, 2020 (detail)