Finding the Arc of Common Bonds, AD&A Museum, UCSB
By Noelle Barr, LUM/UCSB Arts Writing Intern
A solemn structure instilled with notions of social solidarity floods UCSB’s Art, Design & Architecture Museum’s entrance to the current exhibit “Common Bonds: Artists and Architects on Community.” This monumental plaster sculpture by Karon Davis, Noah and his Ark (2018), depicts a man guiding a vessel holding two females, one a child and the other an elder, along with their sentimental belongings. Davis’ work serves as a semiotic introduction to the arc of the exhibit by presenting a stark visual materialization of the displacement of marginalized individuals.
“Common Bonds” is an exhibition of artists and architects who cultivate ideas of social unity, exploring the intersections of protest, tradition and contemporary cultural frames. The exhibit displays a range of works related to the manifestation of community, including a pop-up book, sculpture, photography, video, drawings, prints and posters.
The collection of work synthesizes the experience of contributing artists and their ancestors, referencing the way in which individual perspectives impact a greater understanding of communal battles with natural, social and political forces.
Piñatas, digital art and posters hang salon-style within the exhibit. Unsaturated images from the 1970s of fervent groups such as anti-war protesters and members of the LGBTQ community simultaneously depict confrontation and revelry. The photograph “1970s Isla Vista Riots” by photographer Joseph S. Melchione, a stern image of the second UCSB riot in opposition to the Vietnam War, critiques the politics of the Isla Vista Bank of America that supported the war. The image exposes the tension and animosity among students involved in this climatic event—from witnesses to physical participants, to the student who was shot and killed by police at the scene. Melchione captures the emotions and thoughts whirling through the heads of adolescents balancing their university aspirations with their beliefs, finding power in disobedience, and taking part in activities that could potentially threaten their academic/professional success. In Melchione’s image, intense feelings of uncertainty mix with grounded ambitions as university students stand together in protest.
In contrast to the connotatively dire photograph of protesters is the Gay Liberation Front poster photographed by Peter Hujar. The image was taken on the anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, marketing the first New York Pride March and coining the phrase “coming out.” Depicted with the bolded, capitalized command “COME OUT!!” a throng of invigorated adolescents run, jump, scream and laugh. This image not only conveys a resilient notion of camaraderie but also the wave of ecstasy before the rise of the AIDS crisis in the 1980s. Media such as Hujar’s photograph mark significant transitions within American culture as well as global watershed moments that worked to revolutionize the notion and research of gender, sexuality and sexually transmitted diseases.
Kara Elizabeth Walker’s pop-up book “Freedom, A Fable” (1997) is illustrated in black silhouettes. At approximately ten inches in height when displayed opened, the paper architecture brings to focus the double discrimination experienced by black women throughout American history, including slavery and post emancipation. “Freedom, a Fable” explores race, violence, gender and sexuality, echoing the concept of intersectionality expressed by Kimberlé Crenshaw. Walker’s black paper silhouettes enhance the idea of marginalized people living in the shadows of an inequitable system.
By constructing a web of communal solidarity bound by the narratives each work evokes, “Common Bonds” explores the topography of protest, fellowship and communion, locating voices that have moved from periphery to mainstream, and signaling others that continue to struggle in the margins.
“Common Bonds” will be on exhibit at the Art, Design & Architecture Museum on the University of California, Santa Barbara campus from Saturday, January 12, 2019 to Sunday, December 8, 2019.
“Storming of the Bank of America”
“The Stonewall Riot and its Aftermath”