The SF Arts Commission's "SHIFT" asks America to put aside its discomfort and talk about race
Less ambiguous but certainly more ambitious is Axtman's ongoing video project "The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase 1)," on view at the Van Ness gallery and which the artist is also showing in a series of community screenings. "The Love Renegade" responds to a 2009 incident in which Bardwell, a former Louisiana Justice of the Peace, refused to marry a mixed race couple fearing the rejection they would face by society. In response, Axtman interviewed mixed race couples and the children of mixed race couples who talk about their lives and assure Bardwell that it's gotten better for them, ending their testimonials with a pledge of unconditional love to Bardwell.
Somerville's moveable mural "Places I Have Never Been," on display at SFAC's Grove Street (155 Grove, SF) window space, is perhaps SHIFT's most conventional component in terms of its chosen medium. Focusing on six pivotal moments in Bay Area history that affected various minority populations, Somerville has rendered iconic imagery from each event onto the six sides of large cubes that stack on top of one another to create a 10x14 foot wall that when placed together forms a large-scale painting across all its faces. Some of the events, such as the internment of Japanese citizens during WWII or the White Night riots, are more familiar than others (the 1966 Hunters Point uprising that saw residents facing off against 1200 National Guard troops).
Even though I started out this review discussing current events, I'd feel like I was underselling SHIFT if I simply called it timely. The point is that Huffman, Axtman and Somerville have taken the time in the first place to think through one of the most fraught, at times ugly, and always ever-present categories that we must continue to live with. The pieces in SHIFT are discussion prompts not diagnoses. And although they're articulated with varying degrees of direction and clarity, at least they're encouraging the conversation about race America never seems to be having to be broached in a way that's not about blame or personal wrongdoing but accountability to each other.
Through December 10, free
San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery
Various locations, SF