Issue:  Vol. 48 / No. 7 / 15 February 2018

'Spirits' find celebration,
diversity at exhibit


Detail of Elizabeth Oscar Maynard's altar titled "Full Circle" shows living lesbian pioneer Phyllis Lyon and other notable leaders. (Photo: Courtesy SOMArts)
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A trove of installation art ranging from illustrated window panes to acrylic transgender portraits to a crucifix made from dollar bills that pays homage to LGBT heritage, are among the artwork in SOMArts' Calling On the Spirits to Face the Future exhibit.

Open through November 10, the menagerie of intimate installations and mixed media pieces pay celebratory tribute to the deceased (and at least one living pioneer) that exemplifies San Francisco's multicultural approach to Day of the Dead, or Dia de los Muertos, which is observed November 2.

A series of flattering fluorescent portraits in the style of Catholic prayer cards by Millan Gabriel Figueroa brings attention to murdered or incarcerated transgender women alongside gold lettering that reads "Justice for Sisters."

"I would like to speak to the ways that other societies praised and took care of trans, queer, and two-spirit people. Instead of pity and guilt I want the images to represent empowerment, beauty, and the need for inclusion and advocacy of the transgender community," said gay artist Figueroa.

His portraits feature transgender women who were victims of homophobic assaults, like 23-year-old Crishaun "CeCe" McDonald, who is serving 41 months in prison in Minnesota for a second-degree manslaughter conviction after stabbing a male assailant in self-defense after he and a group of people harassed McDonald and her friends for being transgender.

The artwork is unlike quintessential Mexican folklore that typically permeates Day of the Dead festivities, where sugar skulls, skeletons, and Frida Kahlo imagery are ubiquitous icons alongside warmly-lit altars for deceased loved ones.

Here, altars incorporate elements considered avant-garde to traditionalists, who opt for marigold petals to invite the deceased and offer gifts like food and indulgences.

In transgender artist Elizabeth Oscar Maynard's altar titled "Full Circle," a jar of feathers sits alongside terra cotta planters with ascending ivy before a windowpane with stenciled, ecstatic caricatures of living pioneers Alice Walker and Phyllis Lyon, and Cesar Chavez and other historic figures.

And near the entrance to the exhibit, gay artist Javier Rocabado's "Norvus Ordo Seclorum," Latin for "new order of the ages," invites the viewer into a dystopian crucifix coated in U.S. dollar bills and studded with bullets before an acrylic painting of flames overlaying a blue sky.

"It's the new world order, like the colonial Catholics at the time," Rocabado said, drawing a comparison between American colonialism and Catholicism's introduction during Spain's colonial era.

Edmundo de Marchena and Jeff Barhoum-Lindo's "Tree For All" is a participatory installation that asks viewers to identify their family using gender symbols, including a male-female sign for transgender family members. From its branches, transgender members like Sam, Luke, or mama are identified and sway in passing.

The spectrum of styles complements the variety of cultures represented.

Curators Rene and Rio Yanez encouraged artists to focus on "positive forces" with the impending elections.

"The Mayans believed that the solar system's cycles coincided with our own spiritual and collective consciousness and imagined the close of 2012 as a period of rebird and transition," said co-curator Rene Yanez.

SOMArts is located at 934 Brannan Street between Eighth and Ninth streets. Open Tuesday through Friday, noon to 7 p.m.; Saturday 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.; and Sunday 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Admission is free.

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