What does home mean to you? This seemingly simple question is a complex one because the word home is intertwined with feelings of belonging, being settled, and feeling centered. For many, even in the West, their sense of home is intimately connected to their sense of self. Certainly, for Frida, home meant Mexico, a sentiment that was strengthened while living in the United States. As an outsider in San Francisco, she was viewed as the petite, exotic wife of Diego Rivera. This perception of her as “petite,” “exotic,” and “wife of” creates the image of a small, unobtrusive foreign wife to a man hailed as a great artist. Where is Frida’s identity in this description? Certainly many of these perceptions were informed by 1930s attitudes concerning gender and race.
Sadly, many of these sexist and racist perceptions still exist in the United States today. This is clear in
Mark Harris’s To Be Young, Gifted, and Criminalized, where a young African American boy looks up in a contemplative mood while writing as if he’s gathering his thoughts before putting another sentence down on paper. Is he thinking about a mathematical problem connected to all the equations behind him or is he beginning to lose consciousness due to the blood flowing out of the huge gaping holes in his body? By juxtaposing these two very different images of this young boy, Harris’s piece reveals the way in which perceptions of black males as dangerous criminals can cost a young gifted man his life. What might have become of this young black male had he lived in a society free of such racist stereotypes? As Harris states: “As a kid, I remember wanting to be a professional football player, astronaut and cowboy all in the same week. Unbridled imagination is a gift of youth. The possibilities of life seem endless and there is a desire and curiosity to try everything you can. Who’s to say that in today’s climate of police violence against African American youth that we haven’t already lost the next George Washington Carver, Ron McNair, Charles Drew or Thurgood Marshall?” James Baldwin wrote that “An identity is questioned only when it is menaced…” If you feel the “menace” of racial profiling on a regular basis, then your identity is called into question a lot. Can a place where your identity is questioned feel like home?
There’s a thought-provoking exhibition at the Thacher Gallery on the campus of the University of San Francisco that explores the multiple meanings of home, both literal and metaphorical, in an innovative manner. Hiraeth: the 3.9 Collective Searches for Home features ten African American artists who formed a collective in response to the exodus of African Americans from San Francisco, leaving a mere 3.9 percent in this city known for its diversity and openness. Hireath is a Welsh word that "roughly translates to homesick," but as fellow collective member and the curator of the exhibition, Rhiannon Evans MacFadyen, points out, the word also means "a longing for a far-off home, one that may not even exist." Each artist responds to this Welsh word in a different manner, using a variety of media, making the exhibition powerful on both an aesthetic and emotional level.
In the end, O’Arwisters’s story and his Jams emphasize the importance of accepting one’s self and building communities, two important ingredients for a thriving society. But, when black communities are forced to disperse to other areas or onto the streets due to gentrification, can these displaced individuals maintain a healthy sense of self? One of the lingering questions that the Hireath exhibit asks is: “Does San Francisco care if black people are here?”
Hiraeth ends on April 21, 2015. There's a closing event at USF's Gleeson Library that features Rodney Ewing in conversation discussing the displacement of the African American community in San Francisco's Fillmore District.
To get more information about the Hiraeth exhibit and the closing event, go to:
Closing Event Info:
To learn more about the 3.9 Collective and its artists, go to:
Upcoming Crochet Jams:
Steep Brew Cafe, Whole Foods, Potrero Hill, ArtSpan's Hub, Thursday, May 7, 2015, 6–8 p.m.
San Francisco International Airport (SFO), Safety, Health, & Wellness, 20 Aug 2015, 12–1 p.m.
All quotes from the artists and curator are taken from the Hiraeth website; however, Mark Harris sent me his statement for this essay.
For the Julie Beck article, "The Psychology of Home," the first quote is from Beck, but the second quote is from William S. Sax on page 2 of the article.
© Celia S. Stahr 2015