Multidisciplinary art show honors 13 notable Black women in Oakland

Friday, December 8, 2023
Multidisciplinary art show honors 13 Black women in Oakland
A multidisciplinary art show in Oakland called "Throughline" celebrated 13 change-making Black women in the city.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- A multidisciplinary art show in Oakland called "Throughline" just wrapped up several sold-out shows earlier this month. It celebrated 13 change-making Black women in the city.

"I typically paint skin," said Taylor Smalls, co-creator of Throughline and painter for the show. "I love to paint Black and Brown skin."

Smalls walked ABC7 News through the visual elements of the show. Giant portraits of the 13 women painted in bright hues like yellow, pink and red floated throughout the space.

The scale of Smalls' work is stunning. In some cases, the canvases are nine feet tall.

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"Working really large scale like this also just gives testament to these women as well," Smalls said. "They should be focused upon."

All of the women honored come from different industries, but they all add to the joy, growth and change in Oakland.

"This show was really born conceptually in the pandemic, where I really wanted to just lean into a full body of work, that was based around women in Oakland," Smalls said.

To name a few, honorees included retail and style-maker Sherri McMullen, musician Goapele and journalist Niema Jordan.

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"We just dove into kind of formulating this list of women that are both very well-known people in Oakland, but also some very unsung heroes as well," Smalls said.

The shows begins with a culinary experience from the Last Supper Society influenced by the paintings. Then, attendees are guided as a group through the show by actor Michael Wayne Turner III, who created a poem and monologue to accompany each painting. The show closes with a vocal performance by Mara Hruby. Each portrait was painted from a photograph by Brandon Ruffin. All of the participating artists are based in Oakland.

"You don't have to follow very strict institutional structures of putting your work out into the world," Smalls said. "This is totally grassroots. We did this on our own. We're in this space on our own."

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Xavier Cunningham co-created the show with Smalls.

"It may not be the perfect answer, but the truthful answer is, it's (the show) something more," Cunningham said. "It's really an immersive experience that encapsulates art at its full form, at its most interconnected form."

Cunningham continued, "It brings in people from all backgrounds who want to interact with the experience. I don't think you can always say that. There are a lot of spaces that people walk into that they're intimidated by. Maybe they don't feel like they dress the right way, or they don't speak or have enough knowledge about collecting in and of itself. If you now have reached a financial threshold where you're like, 'Hey, I want to collect art,' but you have no idea where to start."

Accessibility is at the core of Throughline. Everyone should be able to enjoy art and be celebrated in it.

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"When I go to galleries and when I go to museums, if I do see, which is rare, but if I do see a Black or Brown woman on a wall, it's very dull, very muddied, and very muted," Smalls said.

Smalls' observations about how Black and Brown women are often portrayed in art is why bright and bold colors are so integral to her work.

"To actually see their visceral reaction to it was an emotional experience," Smalls replied. "It was really beautiful, because I think that a lot of them haven't -- no matter what they do, whatever industry they're in, no matter how long they've been doing what they're doing. I don't think that they've all had somebody, and multiple people in this instance and in terms of Throughline, take time to just focus on them and honor them."

While the curtain has closed on the show in Oakland, Throughline is not over. Smalls and Cunningham are in talks to bring the series to other parts of the Bay Area, and honor more women in shows in other parts of the country and world.

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