Elena Gross on Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold, Rodney Ewing: Longitude and Latitude, Dignity Images: Bayview-Hunters Point featuring American Artist

by Nicole Winthrop, Membership Manager and Board Liaison

“While there is joy, there is also melancholy.”
(Exhibitions Associate, Elena Gross, on Ebony G. Patterson whose works are on view in Coffee, Rhum, Sugar & Gold through Aug 11, 2019)

Elena Gross moved across the country in 2012 to build her art career, though quickly learned the challenge of holding a sustainable art practice in what has been rated as one of the most expensive cities to live in the world. Still, this has not deterred her from pursuing her career in the arts. Elena has presented her writing and research at institutions and conferences across the U.S., including Nook Gallery, Southern Exposure, KADIST, Harvard College, YBCA, California College of the Arts, and the GLBT History Museum.  She holds an MA in Visual & Critical Studies from the California College of the Arts and was formerly the creator and co-host of the arts and visual culture podcast what are you looking at? published by Art Practical.

When asked about the importance of having a black arts institution in a city with its own marginalized black population, Elena reasserted that narratives about black people are still being controlled by a racist, misinformed point of view or simply not told at all.  “The African Diaspora has given us [San Francisco] a local footprint not even reflected by San Francisco’s major art institutions.  For the most part, black is still an idea limited to conversations about diversity, equity, and inclusion, which is to diminish black art as one-dimensional and necessarily didactic and in no way reflective of what black artists determine to express and represent in art.”

Elena brought my attention to Rodney Ewing’s “A Conclave of Smoke and Memories”, (2018-2019 MoAD Emerging Artist ), and what she described as a visceral retelling of the racially-charged destruction of Tulsa, OK’s Greenwood District, known more famously as Black Wall Street.  “I love this exhibit for bringing our origins into the present and for making possible what wouldn’t have even been fathomed at the time.”  In Ewing’s ‘Last Rites’, he pays homage to the enslaved men who worked the Imperial Sugar Company plantation in Sugar Land, TX.  Four shadowed figures stand before us, their forms now re-contextualized through Ewing’s fascination with planes, grids and black squares that have the effect of butterflies.

“The black experience is constantly being reimagined all at once, all the time.” (Elena on Rodney Ewing. Detail from Ewing’s “Butterfly Effect”)


Through its exhibitions and programs, MoAD shows how the story of Africa and the African American is a story much bigger than what the general narrative has determined it to be.  African-ness is as much a geo-historical construct as it is a socio-political and cultural movement.  MoAD brings visibility to this by supporting local black artists to show their works on a global stage.  The Emerging Artist Program (EAP) sponsors an artist or art collective’s debut solo show.  Similarly, the Wells Fargo Heritage Center (lobby level) features artists with immediate ties to the Bay Area.  Currently on view is Dignity Images: Bayview-Hunters Point featuring American Artist.

“One piece that really speaks to me is ‘Kevin’s Piece’ by American Artist. The hair reminds me of my dad’s wave and then of my own.” (Elena on Dignity Images: Bayview-Hunters Point by American Artist, on view through Aug 11)


MoAD recently sponsored mixed media artist Andrea Chung, whose works deal with the subject of colonialism and slavery in the Caribbean, to create a piece for CRSG.  Andrea sculpts melted sugar, a commodity once the staple crop produced on plantations throughout the Caribbean.  In Proverbs 12:22 (third floor on view through Aug 11) Andrea arranges blocks of molded sugar in rows, some of which contain various Christian and Catholic curios, such as rosary beads and pages torn out of hymnals.  Now several weeks into the exhibit, the sugar has begun to melt.  Elena pointed out how Andrea’s works expose us to the order that we are forced to live within.  As I watch the sugar molds morph and change shape, I notice how they must expand in order to break form.

Connect with Elena on IG and Twitter @yung_sch0lar
Rodney Ewing, The Devil Finds Work, on view at Headlands Center for the Arts through August 15, 2019

Categories:  Exhibitions & Events