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Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera

MoAd’s timely exhibit a must-see

On exhibit at the de Young is the vibrant work of Chihuly and SFMOMA has the revolutionary work of Mexican artist Frida Kahlo. If you’ve already been to San Francisco’s big two, it’s time to explore the Museum of African Diaspora’s (MoAD) contemplative, civically-inspiring “Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera", organized by The Amistad Center for Art & Culture with curators Lisa Henry, M.A. and W. Frank Mitchell, Ph.D. This timely, collective body of work is not to be missed, especially considering the African American population of San Francisco is depleting faster than you can say gentrification.

The 94 pieces of art in “Double Exposure” are framed within three categories: Critiquing the Archive, Opening up the Family Album and Photographer as Muse. These delineations combine to create a visual narrative of African American identity that juxtaposes art and history. The work of photographic innovators of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, such as pioneer Augustus Washington and Harlem Renaissance man Roy DeCarava, begins a dialogue that expresses themes within the black community of hope and dignity while questioning the persistence of memory and objectivity in photography.

A pool of contemporary artists, including Oakland’s Lewis Watts, Jamaican born Albert Chong and distinguished female photographer Carrie Mae Weems answer their predecessors with acceptance and adaptation in both subject matter and technique. The conversation spans gender and nationality which makes for a uniquely inclusive discussion.

DeCarava, a 2006 recipient of the National Medal of Arts, has always portrayed everyday African American life in a humanistic and multifaceted manner. In “Couple Dancing, New York,” (1956) the artist captures both the frenetic energy of New York City nightlife and the calm affection between his subjects by using ambient light and photographing out of focus. Local artist Watts, in his “Mr. Wilson’s House, West Oakland” (1993) derives inspiration from the techniques and subjects of DeCarava, photographing his community’s inhabitants, families, sacred locations and cultural traditions.

As you exit the elevator on the third floor of MoAD the words of “I Too,” Langston Hughes poignant poem, greets you in the peaceful, dim lit gallery. “Tomorrow I’ll be at the table…. Nobody’ll dare say to me, “Eat in the kitchen, then.” Besides, they’ll see how beautiful I am and be ashamed – I too am America.” Using this artistic declaration as a lens, “Double Exposure” provides insight into the exquisite contradictions and complexities of the African American experience; the humanistic and historic struggle to reclaim and control ones own identity within the larger landscape of American culture.

“Double Exposure: African Americans Before and Behind the Camera” runs at the Museum of African Diaspora through September 28. For more information call (415) 358 – 7200 or visit