San Francisco Public Library Artist-In-Residence Reclaims The Black Experience Of The 1906 Earthquake

San Francisco Public Library and Arts Commission announce a new project by tanea lunsford lynx on view at the Main Library December 21, 2023 through March 1, 2024

Sepia image of San Francisco ruins after the 1906 Earthquake

we were here On View December 14, 2023 To March 01, 2024

SAN FRANCISCO, November 28, 2023 – San Francisco Public Library (SFPL) and the Arts Commission (SFAC) announce a new project by artist-in-residence, writer and educator tanea lunsford lynx. Titled we were here, this creative investigation delves into the Black American presence in San Francisco during the late 1800s and early 1900s, with a particular focus on the 1906 earthquake.

“I love tanea’s project because it takes people on a journey back in time through our collection to engage with the rich tapestry of San Francisco’s history and the resilience of its Black community,” says City Librarian Michael Lambert. “At such a divisive time in our country, it is especially critical that we take steps to recenter the contributions of People of Color to our collective history in order to advance racial equity and understanding.”

Lynx, one of the four inaugural artists-in-residence at SFPL through the San Francisco Arts Commission's Artist-in-Residence program, spent ten weeks immersing herself in the Main Library. She became fascinated by the San Francisco History Center’s collection of oral histories and how we can connect with these histories when they cannot be physically held or seen. Her journey led her to stumble upon a remarkable oral history project from 1978 featuring an interview between Albert Broussard and Aurelious Alberga, an African American gentleman born in San Francisco in 1884.

As lynx delved into the transcripts and listened to Alberga's captivating stories, a vivid picture of Black people in San Francisco during the 1880s and early 1900s emerged. She was particularly struck by Alberga's detailed account of his experience during the 1906 earthquake, including his heroic efforts to save his employer, an elderly gentleman, who slept through the entire catastrophe. According to lynx, “I knew we were here, but I hadn’t seen many photos of Black San Franciscans during that time. I hadn’t heard our stories in our own voices. Something new opened up for me hearing Aurelious’ voice.”

This eye-opening discovery shed light on the long-standing presence of the Black community in San Francisco, whose stories and experiences have often been overlooked, obscured or completely erased. we were here weaves history, poetry and lynx’s own reflections on the 1906 Earthquake as a metaphor for gentrification and displacement. The exhibit also showcases a range of available sources at the Library, including oral history audio clips, printed transcripts and archival photos of the City in the aftermath of the Earthquake.

“My time as a resident in the library transformed the ways I engage with oral histories,” says lynx. “I've always been called to listen to and amplify stories of those who came before us, but I've never experienced this much synchronicity and wonder while fulfilling the artistic and spiritual duty of a project.”

“Through our artist in residence program with the San Francisco Public Library, tanea lunsford lynx has been able to unearth and bring to light the often untold and forgotten stories of Black San Franciscans,” said Ralph Remington, Director of Cultural Affairs. “we were here is a powerful installation that allows us to directly connect with and learn from San Francisco’s early Black residents and how they navigated the city during challenging times such as the 1906 earthquake. We are thrilled with the approach that tanea has taken to utilize all the resources available at the Library and showcase it in a new and creative way.”

EXHIBIT DETAILS
we were here by tanea lunsford lynx
On view December 21, 2023 through March 1, 2024
San Francisco Main Library, African American Center, 100 Larkin Street, 3rd Floor

FREE PUBLIC PROGRAMS
Artist Reception: Thursday, January 11 from 5-7 p.m., San Francisco Main Library, African American Center, 100 Larkin Street, 3rd Floor
tanea lunsford lynx in Conversation with Albert Broussard: Wednesday, February 7 from 6-7 p.m. (via Zoom). Visit sfpl.org to register.

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