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Exhibit Review: Our whole, unruly selves

By Nicole Mui April 7, 2022


Rating: (5/5) Accessible language, centers perspectives from artists of color, but could improve the dim lighting.


Mirrors are often depicted as a window into the soul: Behind every glance of faces and bodies are the influences of our cultural identity, gender, race or sexuality, shifting what is seen through the looking glass. In the San Jose Museum of Art’s exhibit titled “Our whole, unruly selves,” open from Nov. 19, 2021 to June 26, abstract art and short films introspectively reflect on the perspectives of diverse bodies, questioning traditional representations of identity and providing welcoming spaces for marginalized communities.


As viewers walk into the exhibit, they are surrounded by paintings of abstract shapes. One artist, Felipe Baeza, paints figures in gray and white tones while connecting them to strings of yarn. In his work “I have sprouted against unnatural boundaries,” vines extend from the neck of a body in place of a face. The arms are a pale blue hue, the legs are speckled with dirt and the feet are bunched together to resemble a root planted into the ground. Baeza’s works drift in suspended motion among muted backgrounds to express a world where people grow up as queer and Nicole Mui Photo

undocumented.


Turning a corner, I saw a figure with a blue navy cap, black jacket and red pants, which I presumed was another spectator until I saw the messages painted on the body.


The exhibit also explores how power defines which figures are considered human. Turning a corner, I saw a figure with a blue navy cap, black jacket and red pants, which I presumed was another spectator until I saw the messages painted on the body. Bold red letters read “the voice of this community will be heard” and “focus on our anger, not the injustice” to represent the figure of Rodney King. These words are a feature of the paper mache piece titled “Pensive,” created by Willie Birch in 1942. King’s statue describes the Powell v. Superior Court court case, where a court ruled officers not guilty of using excessive force even after reviewing video tapes that exposed the police officers egregiously harming an African American man, sparking riots throughout Los Angeles. Birch’s creation describes the activism, injustice and horror of racial injustice.


Films throughout the museum show how the beauty of movement is significant in shaping self-expression. In the 1987 film by the AXIS Dance Company with Alex Ketley, a bright beam of light shines on an accessible program specifically created for dancers who are disabled. As numerous contemporary pieces play, the dancers wave and twirl alongside each other to celebrate their original choreographies.



Overall, the exhibit was masterful at explaining how race, gender, sexuality and disability intersect with bodily perception while focusing on identities often objectified in order to humanize them.

The museum’s large breadth of examples was refreshing and created a sense of individuality, providing the viewer with an inroad toward their own reflection.


 

About the Contributor

Nicole Mui

Staff Writer & Museum Review Columnist


Nicole Mui is a sophomore at Leland High School and writer for The Charger Account. During their free time, she enjoys reading, painting, and debating.

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