“While the California African American Museum opened its doors in 1984 (chartered in 1977), it has until recently remained one of the best kept secrets in Los Angeles.”
—Deputy Director Naima J. Keith
In a step towards achieving a higher profile, the California African American Museum (CAAM) in Exposition Park has assembled a collection of artists whose work reflects the present along with historic touchstones from the not so distant past. Opening with a gala celebration on October 19, visitors were entertained with the pulsating rifts of DJ Rashida, Joi, and DJ Lynnee Denise, along with food and wine.
“Naming the party “Can’t Stop Wont Stop” was not only a nod to our past, but a declaration that the museum will continue to thrive well into the future,” Keith says.
“The title also specifically references hip-hop. Several songs, articles and books have been named ‘Can’t Stop Wont Stop.’ As we think about the future of the museum, we are well aware that cultivating a younger diverse audience is of the utmost importance.“
Perhaps the most high-profile artist on the dais is Hank Willis Thomas. A product of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts and California College of the Arts, he has received acclaim for his explorations into the intersections of culture, media and race.
“Black Righteous Space,” Thomas first solo exhibit at CAAM, utilizes the relatively new medium of interactive media to immerse the museum attendee into a milieu of culturally charged video imagery including the Confederate flag repurposed into the colors of Pan Africanism (red, black, and green). Enamored with the visual imagery and media symbolism that bombard us (he admits to being a childhood fan of the 1980s sitcom “The Dukes of Hazard” and having a toy replica of the Dodge Charger car “General Lee” with the rebel flag on its roof), he pairs this altered icon of oppression with the audio saturation of such dissident voices as James Baldwin, Gil-Scott Heron, Richard Pryor, and Kanye West.
If the Black experience is a difficult one to negotiate in the American landscape, the added component of interracial marriage complicates this thorny existence. Genevieve Gaignard came of age in a western Massachusetts mill town, the product of a Black father and a White mother. CAAM offers up the debut exhibit of this emerging artist with an installation titled “Smell the Roses.”
A Yale grad with an MFA in photography, she defies categorization in the series of rooms she constructed in her exploration of racial identity and stereotypes, incorporating collages of a kitschy or lowbrow (appealing to those with poor taste) sentiment. Included are a series of self-portraits of the artist in various characterizations, with hilarious (but appropriate) titles. For more about this cultural provocateur, go to her website at
Gaignard will give a talk about her work with CAAM Deputy Director Naima J. Keith on Nov. 3, from 7-9 p.m., followed by an audience Q&A.
Art curator Dexter Wimberly showcases four U.S. based African artists in the “Ease of Fiction” segment, which ponders the divide between the invented and the real. Particularly striking are the pieces by Rwandan native Duhirwe Rushemeza (http://duhirwe.com/). A product of Spelman College, The Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC), she utilizes her training in architectural rendering to craft vaguely sculptural paintings which evoke the cultural legacy of her ancestral homeland.
The CAAM staff showcases a look backwards of a cultural event that shaped our present existence with “Politics, Race, and Propaganda: The Nazi Olympics, Berlin 1936.” A compilation of documents, films, photos, and other paraphernalia, it recalls the almost forgotten push for a boycott of that athletic event in response to German oppression of its Jewish citizenry.
The boycott never materialized, of course (Black media outlets pointed out the hypocritical move to protest discrimination aboard while Jim Crow inequality flourished on the home front), and the Nazi effort to use the games to sugar coat their fascist agenda was stymied by the performances of African American track stars who squashed the myth of Aryan superiority. The display will feature one of the actual gold medals won by Jesse Owens.
All of these exhibits are on display thru Feb. 19, 2017, with the exception of the Berlin Olympic installation, which runs thru Feb. 26.