“The arts are alive in San Francisco and we should be proud of what we have going on here. I think it’s really unique and a lot of people are looking at us from around the world…and so I think we have a lot more sharing to do. And so I hope we’re not giving up on ourselves, because there’s a lot of power here.”
It took awhile to track down, but I finally got my hands on a clear enough reference image of the extraordinary Ms. Ebony Uhura McKinneythat would allow me to make an illustrated portrait of her.
Ebony passed away very suddenly in late July: I didn’t have adequate words when she passed, but I hoped that I could eventually make an image of her, instead.
Ebony, I hope it’s cool with you that I did this. Based on how hard it was for me to track down a clear pic, you seemed eminently uninterested in having your photo taken. Since you did love art and illustration, though, I hope that this is something you would have been tickled by. I miss you and I don’t want anyone forgetting who you are, so I want this image to stick around awhile. (I might also make an editioned print of this if there’s interest, with all profits going to a cause that you would appreciate.)
In any case, thank you again, for everything you did, in your far-too-short time with us here.
Bay Area Memorial for Ebony Uhura McKinney
Date: Tues Sept 12
Where: Against the Stream and Red Poppy Art House, both in SF’s Mission District (2701 and 2698 Folsom St respectively) Against the Stream Buddhist Meditation Society/6 pm Red Poppy Art House/8 pm
The Against the Stream (2701 Folsom St) program starts promptly at 6:30pm with a meditation. People may remain at Against the Stream until 9pm.
Red Poppy Art House (2698 Folsom St) will open its doors at 8 pm for people to gather and continue celebrating Ebony with music, dance and refreshments.
Well, we didn’t get the full experience of the Totality here in Northern California last week, but the Partiality (as I like to call it) was still reasonably amusing, if buried in Karl the Fog‘s August embrace.
Anticipating that the actual eclipse would be mostly underwhelming for those of us outside the Totality Zone, my birthday party theme for the weekend prior was “Wofftopia: Preclipse”. Our goal was to dramatically preenact the mysteries of the eclipse in our own special way. To this end, friends and I cut out black cardboard discs, and set upon a series of photos using the discs to obliterate this and that while up at an idyllic, utopian-esque cabin in coastal Sea Ranch.
The subsequent weekend was the first since the eclipse, and was largely dominated by massive community responses in both San Francisco and Berkeley to the threat of a couple of far-right rallies being planned in both cities. With the previous weekend’s shenanigans still largely on my mind, and with continued mindfulness to precepts of “using culture to move culture” from the Making Waves pdf that I’ve mentioned before, I whipped up a quick, free 11×17 poster design (still available here) that people could download from my website and print for themselves.
The posters turned out to be a huge hit; multiple friends distributed them and reported back on their popularity. To my great amusement, this image of the Wah brandishing her printout was used as the lead image for an article on SFGate and in SF Chronicle’s social media accounts, as well:
It’s already been a couple of months since my 3 week stay in Hong Kong earlier this summer, but it actually took me quite a while to slog through an overload of thoughts and impressions in order to come to some useful, simplified observations.
First off: I grew up in Hong Kong. I lived here from ages 2 to 7, and my sister was born there. Despite my many trips to Asia, I’d never managed to get around to returning here, though.
When Herb and I passed through the city for a few days in 2015, it was the first time I’d been back as an adult. I was immediately struck by how intensely familiar it felt, despite how dramatically different it now was. The air just felt right on my skin; the smells and sounds felt true–like…home, somehow. Given my peripatetic childhood, “home” is always a loose concept, at best–nothing I expect to feel like permanence, but familiar is always nice. I finally identified Hong Kong as the place that anchored my deepest formative memories, and determined that I’d be back for a longer stay in the future.
In the past couple of years since that first taste, it became very clear that spending time here just made sense professionally, too. Since Hong Kong is rapidly becoming the epicenter of the globalized art world, I had an interest in learning more about what that really looked like and how it functioned, in order to better serve my teaching and studio practice.
While I spent a decent amount of time investigating local galleries and art spaces, it felt like I barely scratched the surface of the array of venues and events here. I was disappointed to miss out on the M+ Pavilion (its show closed right before I arrived) and a few other interesting spots seemed to be entering something like a summer hiatus, but I was exceptionally glad to finally experience established arts venues like Asia Art Archive, Asia Society, Osage and Para/Site, after many years of curiosity.
I was also particularly glad to see a lot of smaller initiatives promoting art and art education at a more local community level, like Comix Zone and Oi!. Some local friends of mine also turned me on to more underground projects involving community kitchens and comics workshops with migrant domestic helpers, which were really inspiring and ultimately more compelling than the commercial galleries.
That said, the commercial gallery scene was still fascinating in its own way, if a very glossy, moneyed way . While a couple of elite club venues felt more like vanity projects for the banking class, many legit spaces were intent on presenting serious, smart, blue chip-calibre shows that I was really impressed by.
As a way to give my days some kind of structure and as a reason to dig into culture a little deeper, I enrolled in Mandarin language lessons for 2 weeks. I felt conflicted about not studying Cantonese, since it’s really the primary language of HK (and SF, really), but the reality is that Mandarin is more broadly useful, especially with many of my international students. Still, I love the sound of Cantonese: it’s more familiar to my ears, having grown up with it. And I do already speak a tiny bit of it, so now that I’ve got some grammar basics under my belt, hopefully I’ll continue to build up both languages, if slowly and clumsily. Baby steps.
Two weeks of Mandarin is barely enough time to get past pronunciation and some basic pleasantries, but it was still well worthwhile: my instructor was fantastic about providing cultural context for the language, and we’d often veer productively off-course from the lesson when I had questions about other phrases I wanted to understand.
But back to the initial premise of this extended stay. There’s really something to be said for addressing one’s formative experiences, which is something that had never interested me directly before now. It’s been a strange and fascinating thing to realize that all of my earliest conscious memories and impressions are HK. Some of these are dream-like: the hallucinatory images of a small child, colors, patterns and smells that are stuck to me for the rest of my life. And some of these are truly weird: for instance, while I’ve always told people I grew up in Hong Kong, I didn’t notice how odd it was that my experience of this involved growing up in a haunted house at the back of a Tsuen Wan oil terminal, wedged between all of the oil tanks, pipelines, an abattoir AND a massive cemetery.
And so, even though the terminal was torn down years ago, I made it a personal mission to trek out to the remaining cemetery to see what I could see. This turned out to be an excellent use of an afternoon (and a lovely view, to boot).
And given Hong Kong’s subtropical climate, after various sweltering adventures to cemeteries and the like, I also found it deeply satisfying to go cool off by swimming at as many beaches as I could. This is something our family did constantly when we lived here, as do many locals and expats. My childhood revolved around the water here, so I reveled in any grown-up opportunity I could squeeze in to retreat to a neighboring island or beach.
I started keeping a new art journal during this trip that many of these impressions and images are making their way into: it seems a new body of work is on the way in response to all of this, so consider this post a brief introduction into what will probably be some sort of exhibition or project in the near future. Until then, I’ll leave you with this favorite image of 2 Woffords, many years ago, having a fine father-daughter moment at the very same beach you see above.
A few pics from last weekend’s M.O.B. retreat at the ancestral palace.
We’ve been coming here on our M.O.B. retreats for 15 years, but it’s been 5 long years since our last visit.
Sometimes we’ve come on a mission to shoot photo/video for a specific project, but often the images have simply evolved out of whatever we were actually meeting/retreating about, as more of a serendipitous afterthought. This serendipity is not purely spontaneous, of course: I’ll refer you back to that Louis Pasteur quote I like about “chance favoring the prepared”. With this in mind, some costumes and lights usually find their way into the trunk of someone’s car in advance of the drive there in a “just in case the spirit moves us” capacity.
But of course, the spirit usually moves us. And, after all, it just feels wrong to be in staying such splendor and to not bestow our own magnificence upon these fair environs in return. (see: piazza)
Some more nice recent news I can now make public: “SF Bay Guardians“, my storm drain murals project with the San Francisco Arts Commission, was selected for inclusion in the Americans for the Arts 2017 Public Art Network (PAN) Year in Review! This is national recognition for the best in public art projects, given annually. It was announced at the Public Art Pre-conference of the Americans for the Arts Annual Convention.
I honestly didn’t even know that this award existed, but Jennifer Lovvorn (my project’s program manager at SFAC) submitted it for consideration earlier this year: she then gave me the good news last month. I’ve since learned that only a small percentage of the submitted projects are selected for inclusion, so it’s actually a fairly big deal in the public art field. I am grateful to Jenn for submitting it, and to the jurors for selecting it. Hooray!