Exhibit views Black Panther movement through fresh lens

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A new exhibit at the San Francisco Art Institute is giving audiences a fresh look at one of the most explosive episodes in Bay Area history. (UC Santa Cruz)

A new exhibit at the San Francisco Art Institute is giving audiences a fresh look at one of the most explosive episodes in Bay Area history -- the rise of the Black Panther Movement. The experience is surprisingly intimate and may carry a message for us today.

The faces in the photographs still reflect the raw emotion of the Black Panther movement half a century after they were captured. In 1968, leaders granted nearly unlimited access to two photographers, Ruth-Marion Baruch and her husband Pirkle Jones.

"They were able to go into the kitchen, they were able to go into the homes, they were able to see these moments among the crowd," says guest curator Leila Weefur.

Weefur grew up with an intimate view of the Panthers from her mother, who was a member in the party. She believes the photographs by Baruke and Jones tell a more balanced story of what the party was about, capturing images of Black Pride and Self-Defense that caused many to vilify leaders like Eldridge Cleaver and Bobby Seale, but also the education and food programs that sought to transform the lives of Oakland families.

"How important it was to see the young children be fed. And growing up in Oakland I knew that I had breakfast in the public school because of the Black Panther Party," says Weefur.

Weefur also helped expand the exhibit to include the work of contemporary black artists, including the art collective 5/5.

Jeff Gunderson is the Special Collections Librarian at the San Francisco Art Institute, which is hosting this unique look at the height of the Black Panther Movement, called Vanguard Revisited. He says he photographs were given to the University of California Santa Cruz, where archivist began pouring over them. Students at the Art Institute arranged the images, some never seen before in public, into an exhibit that's meant to carry the struggles of the movement into our times.

"The students really wanted to make sure that it resonated with the audience today and current events today," says Gunderson.

"We see that in a lot of political movements now, like Black Lives Matter, and I think that is something that still carries through today," Weefur ads.

Access to the exhibit is free, and it runs through the first week in April. More information here.
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