A new exhibition at the UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAMPFA) radically reframes the historical relationship between museums and Black culture. About Things Loved: Blackness and Belonging presents major artworks by Black artists from Africa and the African diaspora, organized to showcase the vibrancy that emerges when blackness is relocated from the margins to the center of museum settings.
The exhibition presents more than thirty works from the collections of BAMPFA and UC Berkeley’s Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology, bringing together artistic voices from different generations and nationalities to address questions of blackness and belonging in Western museums.
About Things Loved is organized by students in the UC Berkeley graduate seminar Diaspora | Migration | Exile, cotaught by Associate Professors Lauren Kroiz and Leigh Raiford through the Department of History of Art and the Department of African American Studies. Working collaboratively with BAMPFA’s curatorial team, students have chosen works from BAMPFA and the Hearst’s permanent collections made largely by Black artists that engage with themes of Black cultural and artistic expression. The exhibition marks the third installment in BAMPFA’s Cal Conversations program, a series of annual exhibitions developed in collaboration with UC Berkeley classes.
About Things Loved features works by Peter Bradley, Erica Deeman, Charles Gaines, Mildred Howard, Kamau Amu Patton, Raymond Saunders, Lorna Simpson, Carrie Mae Weems, Fred Wilson, and many others—a roster that includes both established artists and those whose work has been historically underexhibited in museum settings. The exhibition is organized thematically according to five distinct areas of focus, which assert narratives of continuity among Black artists from different eras and cultural contexts.
Works in the exhibition are presented in five thematic groupings:
Roots and Routes: Blackness as Belongings, which focuses on the legacy of African diasporic culture as it emerged from the historical trauma of the global slave trade. Works by Carrie Mae Weems, Lorna Simpson, and Fred Wilson that appear in this section suggest a dialogue between diasporic communities in the past, present, and future that are working to come to terms with this legacy. On Collecting and Belonging, which presents artworks alongside museum registrars’ documentation of their history and provenance, in order to pose questions about the notion of cultural ownership and museums’ historical collecting practices. Embodiment and Materiality, which demonstrates the range of approaches to representing Black bodies and Black life, troubling the divides between the figurative and the abstract (e.g., Romare Bearden’s collages, Erica Deeman’s portrait-silhouettes and Chakaia Booker’s meticulously textured rubber sculptures). Abstraction, which offers a corrective to the absence of Black voices in museum surveys of twentieth-century abstract art, presenting among other notable works a painting from BAMPFA’s collection by Hervé Télémaque that has not been exhibited in decades. On Blackness and Belonging, which presents work by contemporary Black artists—including such notable female voices as Margo Humphrey, Mildred Howard, and Faith Ringgold—to suggest a sense of transhistorical community and belonging in the wake of historical trauma and continuing injustice.
In conjunction with About Things Loved, BAMPFA is mounting a Juneteenth celebration on Wednesday, June 19 that includes a screening and discussion with the artist Mildred Howard, whose work is on view in the exhibition. Howard joins Raiford and Rinder in conversation following a presentation of Pam Uzzell’s Welcome to the Neighborhood, a new documentary exploring Howard’s Bay Area roots and the impact of gentrification. The program begins at noon and is free with museum admission; it is cosponsored by UC Berkeley’s Black Staff and Faculty Organization and the Haas Institute for a Fair and Inclusive Society.
Megan Alvarado-Saggese, Laura Belik, Ree Botts, Pascale Boucicaut, Jamie Danis, Sierra Edd, Patrícia de Nobrega Gomes, Lesdi C. Goussen Robleto, Leslie Huang, Tory Jeffay, Andrea Jung-An Liu, Angela Pastorelli-Sosa, Delphine Sims, Joel Thielen, Sophia Warshall