by: Lina Rise Benson, Museum Studies Assistant
The following is a review of the final public program for Hiraeth: The 3.9 Collective Examines Home, the art exhibition that closed last month at the University of San Francisco’s Thacher Gallery in the Gleeson Library. The Welsh word Hiraeth can be translated as “homesick.” Where is home? What does “home” mean for the people around the world, people in the United States, people in California, and for the creation of this exhibition – here at the University of San Francisco?
“When I think about home, I think about the four to five different junior highs I went to. One of them wasn’t even in this country. So your experience is always different. Number one, you’re an air force kid. Number two, you’re living your life in transit. Number three, you’re also African American. So how do you take your culture with you from place to place? How does that change from living down south to living to in the Midwest? How do you maintain those ties?”
The theme, as expressed in this exhibition, touched on the idea of dispersion and diaspora, specifically of African-Americans in our city. In the program I attended, two speakers, artist Rodney Ewing and USF law professor Rhonda Magee, addressed the large decrease of the African-American population in San Francisco during the last decade.
Between years 2000 and 2010 almost one quarter of San Francisco’s black population left. This downward trend is continuing. The speakers explained how different ethnic groups are constantly coming to, and then leaving, cities as other populations replace them. Yet, in San Francisco, as African-Americans are priced out of their traditional neighborhoods and move elsewhere, few African-Americans are replacing them. The speakers raised the question of what this decrease of African-Americans in the city means for the remaining community as well as the overall diversity of the city.
As a psychology undergraduate student, I know how gentrification plays a role in how different neighborhoods and people can get pushed out of different areas. Districts that were once affordable within San Francisco, such as “The Mission,” have become popular with wealthy technology workers, raising the prices for other residents. The neighborhood, people, stores, and restaurants then adjust to fit a new community of people and clientele. With such change in a community many long-time residents no longer can or feel that they can call their city their home.
Displacement occurs through generations and therefore the numbers in communities shift. The speakers explained that African-Americans feel especially vulnerable. Without role models and a thriving middle class there is a threat for the younger generations of blacks in San Francisco. No one can succeed and thrive alone.
The exhibition spoke to this theme with several works of art. In one of Ewing’s pieces, four doors represented the collaborative African-American experience. As a young boy, with a father in the military, the artist traveled a lot. The four doors were at the same time reflective and clear so that one could see the other doors through each door. Each door portrayed a different historical moment. I think that the most powerful part of the evening was when the artist spoke about his own experience identifying as an African-American male: how the many doors show how home is connected with identity through the time periods, and how he specifically sees the absence of identity and belonging for black males in America due to American history’s scrutinizing control of “where one can be, can’t go and where one is.”
Listening to Ewing explain deeper meaning of his art to him was amazing. To me, Hiraeth represented an opportunity for USF students to carry on dialog with artists about history, change and how the concept of home is both personal and nomadic.