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Angela Davis Through the Lens of Race, Gender, Economics, and Policy.

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BY NAVYA POTHAMSETTY

February 1972: Angela Davis speaks to the press at a press conference following her release on bail during her trial Stephen Shames, February 1972: Angela Davis speaks to the press at a press conference following her release on bail during her trial, 1972, printed 2020. Gelatin silver print. ©2020, Stephen Shames / Polaris Images

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) recently unveiled Seize the Time, an exhibition highlighting the legacy and present-day work of Angela Davis. The show follows a precedent set by OMCA’s previous exhibitions: like All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 and Hella Feminist, Seize the Time is an interdisciplinary, multimedia experience. It also features OMCA’s trademark practice of combining California art and history. Curator and collector Lisbet Tellefsen provided much of Seize the Time’s archival material. Documents like newspaper clippings and “Free Angela” posters from around the world illustrate the divisiveness and influence of Davis’s imprisonment, trial, and legacy. 

Herb Bruce, Free Angela, 1971. Poster. Lisbet Tellefsen Archive

“Most of the time this kind of material is sitting in a box, waiting for someone to request it,” said Tellefsen, who also contributed to All Power to the People. “This exhibit is the shining moment where it gets to live, to be absorbed in its entirety.” Tellefsen’s Angela Davis archive spans decades. Additional materials that didn’t make it on the walls are collated in two thick binders for visitors to flip through

At 78 years old, Davis’s most controversial days are probably behind her. However, her tenure as an activist is far from over. After visitors pass through sections detailing Davis’s trial, imprisonment, and release, they get a chance to hear about her present-day activism—in her own words. In a video co-produced by OMCA and the Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University, Davis reflects on her past and how it influences her present-day work. She touches on a diversity of topics, from intersectional feminism to art as advocacy. 

November 12, 1969—Oakland, California,
USA: Angela Davis speaks in DeFremery Park
at a Free Huey rally
Stephen Shames, November 12, 1969—Oakland,
California, USA: Angela Davis speaks in
DeFremery Park at a Free Huey rally, 1969,
printed 2020. Gelatin silver print. ©2020,
Stephen Shames / Polaris Images

“We wanted to play up this notion that Angela’s still around, still doing the work, and still thinking about these issues,” said curator Lisa Silberstein. Davis’s present-day voice also echoes through the exhibition in the form of contemporary quotes on the wall. Printed alongside images of her past protests and activism, they present Davis as a flesh-and-blood woman who continues to fight—not merely an icon used to represent someone else’s cause. 

Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), Wanted by the FBI, August 18, 1970. Poster. Lisbet Tellefsen Archive

In addition to telling a story about Davis, the exhibit’s historic and contemporary materials convey the perpetual need for political engagement. Visitors will be inspired to join activists like Davis in the fight for equity and freedom. Like Hella Feminist, Seize the Time includes physical takeaways. These cards function as art, information, and reminders of work yet to be done.

“We worked with community members to come up with ideas to connect with these issues in the Bay Area,” said Silberstein. Critical Resistance, The West Oakland Mural Project, Young Women’s Freedom Center, Restore Oakland, Root & Rebound, the Asian Prison Support Committee, and CURB are a few local organizations OMCA partnered with for this exhibition. They continue the work activists like Davis have been doing for decades. The sheer power and influence of this exhibit makes it almost impossible to leave it without wanting to learn and do more to engage with abolition, feminism, and other social justice causes. These cards give visitors some stepping stones to civic engagement, especially for those new to Bay-Area activism. 

Wadsworth Jarrell (American, born 1929) Revolutionary, May 20, 1972. Color screenprint on paper. Lisbet Tellefsen Archive. © Wadsworth Jarrell

“You can be like Angela and think about how you can make a difference locally, or even globally,” Silberstein said. Though the exhibition focuses a lot on the past, the curatorial team hopes that visitors will recognize how the struggle for equity continues. “We want visitors to engage with Seize the Time at OMCA and then take it beyond the exhibition—in both big and small ways.”

Seize the Time runs from October 7, 2022 until June 11, 2023.
OMCA Exhibit Information here.

 

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