SF Juneteenth Art Show Highlights Black Dockyard Artists – NBC Bay Area
A Juneteenth art exhibition featuring the works of eight black artists from studios to Hunters Point Shipyard in San Francisco – where thousands of African Americans migrated for maritime and military jobs in the 1940s – opened this week in the historic Bayview Opera House.
The exhibition coincides with the new federal holiday of June 19 – or Juneteenth National Independence Day – commemorating the emancipation of African Americans.
The holidays ring especially strong for the dozen black artists who create work in the former military buildings of the shipyard – where a colony of more than 200 artists have worked since the 1980s. The former navy shipyard was among the Bay Area military bases that attracted a migration of African American workers during World War II. The bases closed after the war ended, leaving their neighboring communities in economic tatters.
“A lot of families have been laid off,” said artist Dolores Gray who founded the Black On Point Collective to support black artists at the shipyard.
Gray, who celebrated Juneteenth while growing up in New Jersey via her Texas-born father, contributed several pieces to the Juneteenth exhibit. His hope is that the art exhibit will draw more attention to black artists who make up a small percentage of the total number of artists working in the shipyard.
“The show at the opera is I think important,” Gray said, “because part of what we’re trying to do is make the neighborhoods here in Bayview and the whole community more aware of what we are and do.”
Hunters Point Shipyard’s art studios are a cornucopia of artists working in different mediums – from painting to sculpture to stop-motion animation. In his studio in Building 101, artist Ahmad Walker creates stop motion cartoons featuring handcrafted black characters that appear in his series The Adventures of Brothers & Behr.
“There’s no representation for African Americans in stop-motion,” Walker said, flanked by the miniature sets where he painstakingly photographs his characters to create their movement for his films.
Walker also contributed several paintings for the opera exhibit. He said he was excited last year when President Joe Biden signed legislation declaring June 19 a national holiday, though he fears the holiday could eventually turn into things like lawn furniture sales. and celebrations without historical context.
“I don’t want something that historic to be commercialized,” Walker said, “in the sense that it’s watered down so much that there’s no flavor left.”
It seemed that what is considered a June 19 art exhibition runs parallel to themes shared by the black artists of the shipyard – who constitute a segment of the population in what was traditionally a heavily African-American region. .
Their experience mirrors the larger exodus that has seen San Francisco’s black population shrink from 13.4% in 1970 to around 5.2% in 2020.
Painter Pete Dent, who has lived in Bayview-Hunters Point for 40 years and shares a studio wall with Walker, sees the Juneteenth art exhibit checking a few key cultural boxes.
“It’s important in that it highlights Juneteenth, but it’s also important that it highlights the community,” Dent said, “that we’re here.”
The exhibition at the Bayview Opera House runs June 10 through July 31 at 407 Third Street.