Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, CA
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Three woven baskets hold round pillows, each painted with a bright sun-like geometric design. On the wall behind them, scrawled in curly cursive, is the message, “Hug a pillow/ Hug your ancestors/Notice, feel, breathe.”
When she was a teen, Amanda Ayala’s middle school teacher took her to her first art museum in San Francisco. Ayala hated that she couldn’t touch the art.
Today, she loves museums, but longing to touch the art is still the hardest part, she says.
At Ayala’s first solo show, “Connected Always,” at the Richmond Art Center through March 18, this rule doesn’t apply. Guests are invited to touch her work.
A visit to Ayala’s home in Santa Rosa further reveals why she wants her art to be tactile.
Ayala lives with her sister and parents in the home where she was raised. Before we sat for an interview, she showed me the house, pointing out additions and upgrades her father has made.
The living room is a carport he converted. He added a covered patio. In the garden, dozens of plants he potted hang from structures he built.
“I consider my dad an artist and craftsperson. You can touch everything he makes,” Ayala says.
Ayala’s home overflows with her art-making. A few times during the conversation, she mentions appreciating her family’s support and permission to take up shared space in their house.
She speaks of her parents with tremendous love and admiration, even as she notes that living with them as an adult can be challenging.
“Connected Always” captures both Ayala’s youthful spirit and timeless wisdom, captivating her audience with an interactive, multimedia exhibition focused on one’s ancestors.
Praying Over Ancestors
Ayala’s interest in her own ancestors emerged after she began Aztec dancing more than 12 years ago.
“I started dancing in ceremonies as a way of praying and connecting with my community and with the spirits of my ancestors,” Ayala says.
Although she had limited knowledge of her own ancestor’s stories, the impact of one’s ancestors—both blood relatives and chosen family—was impressed upon her, as was the understanding that she will be an ancestor with an impact on generations going forward.
She has researched her own family history, but the stories she can find are limited. Ayala’s mother is a fourth-generation Xicana whose ancestors are Yaqui. Her father migrated from Michoacan to Mexico City and then to northern California in his late teens.
“I don’t have access to everything I would like to know. People who are targeted by different oppressions have different access to their ancestry,” Ayala says.
The Ancestor Wheel
A few years ago, Ayala saw an infographic about ancestral mathematics and wrote about it in a journal.
Many people would be embarrassed to share their personal journals even with close friends, but not Ayala. The journal in which she first started thinking about the ancestor wheel is on display at “Connected Always.”
To be fair, most people’s journals don’t look like Ayala’s, which combines diaristic writing and scrapbooking with collage and painting.
She hand-sews the pages together with big, visible seams, often creating books that fold like an accordion rather than with pages that turn. Her bookbinding techniques replicate and honor Mesoamerican books.
Ayala took the ancestry infographic she saw and started sketching what seven generations of parents would look like, depicted in a circle. Across seven generations, that’s 254 people.
Images similar to Ayala’s ancestor wheels are easy to find online, but always in the context of an infographic; they never make the leap to artistic design.
Ayala creates her wheels as complete circles, starting with two halves in the center to represent parents. Each previous generation fans out from this center. The result is an eye-catching abstract pattern reminiscent of a compass.
The image of the ancestor wheel repeats throughout Ayala’s exhibit.
“Soft Landing,” the largest wheel in the exhibit, is almost seven feet in diameter. A nod to the textile part of Ayala’s practice, it is made of a satin tablecloth and canvas tarp, sewn together with thread, stuffed with pillow fluff and dyed with pink and yellow fabric ink. It is in the center of a large wall in the gallery, with hundreds of hand-dyed silk pieces hanging around it.
On Instagram, Ayala shared a timelapse process video revealing what it took to make “Soft Landing.” The fabric is taped to the floor of her living room, filling almost the entire room as she sketches it. In the caption, she says that after a sleepless night spent stuffing it, she laid on top of it feeling grateful, exhausted and amazed.
Roberto Martinez, exhibitions director at Richmond Art Center, says that “Soft Landing” is one of the most popular parts of the show.
“The colors are rich, and it’s so big that I think it’s almost shocking to people when they enter,” Martinez says. “But then when you touch it, it allows you to land in this place of connection, surrounded by softness.”
Martinez met Ayala several years ago through Oakland’s Chiapas Support Committee (CSC), which educates about Chiapas and Zapatista communities through an annual festival of Zapatista art called CompArte.
When there was a CSC talk at California Institute of Integral Studies, Ayala created an altar that Martinez says set the tone for it.
“The altar was a space we could all connect around—to express honor and reverence for the land we’re on, and also for the energies we were bringing into the space,” Martinez says. “I thought it was pretty incredible.”
Ayala’s collaborators at CompArte knew about her ancestor wheel project. As he planned this winter’s exhibitions at Richmond Art Center, Martinez realized that “Connected Always” would be a great fit.
Alongside Ayala’s art, Richmond Art Center is showing a large annual group show, “Art of the African Diaspora and The Remembrance Project.” The latter, presented by Social Justice Sewing Academy, is described as, “a cloth memorial of activist art banners commemorating the many people who have lost their lives to systems of inequity and racist structures.”
Martinez says he is moved by Ayala’s ability to visualize the magnitude of interconnectedness.
“I thought Amanda’s ability to create space for us to show care for one another would work really well [alongside the other shows], which gets us thinking about our ancestors, our neighbors and people affected by systemic violence,” Martinez points out.
Recently, Ayala visited the show to meet with Martinez about an artist talk and journaling workshop that happened on Feb. 18.
A school teacher approached Ayala and told her that her students really loved the show. Their favorite part? They could touch the art.
‘Connected Always’ is on display through March 18 at Richmond Art Center. There will be a closing party on March 18 from 2-4pm. Admission is free. richmondartcenter.org.
Top image: ENVELOPED Amanda Ayala wraps herself in purple silk she dyed in her yard. Photo by Chelsea Kurnick.
In these informal online sessions RAC’s Education Team will share information about our hiring process and teaching opportunities.
Richmond Art Center offers visual arts education programs for the community year round, on-site at RAC, off-site in the community and online via Zoom. We work collaboratively with Teaching Artists to develop dynamic and inclusive arts education programs that cultivate, support and build our creative community here in Richmond. RAC currently offers visual arts programs and media under the following disciplines: Ceramic Arts & Sculpture, Digital Arts & Sculpture, Drawing & Painting, Glass Arts & Sculpture, Jewelry & Metal Arts, Printmaking Arts, Textiles & Fiber Arts, Mixed Media Arts & Sculpture. TEACHING ARTIST JOB DESCRIPTION
Spring Class Registration Opens Wednesday, February 15
Spring classes are now posted (don’t worry if the class says ‘Fully Booked’ this will change once registration opens). Browse listings and plan which class or workshop you’ll sign up for when classes open for registration on Wednesday, February 15 at 10am.
Excerpt: Originating from the 1989 African American artists salon known as “Colors of Black,” this exhibition highlights the work of over 120 artists of African descent and is accompanied by open studios and satellite exhibitions throughout the Bay.
SF Chronicle Date Book: Black History Month 2023: Bay Area events, performances and more ways to celebrate
Excerpt: The 26th annual Bay Area Black artists group exhibition features works from more than 120 artists of African descent, showcased at the Richmond Art Center and in satellite exhibitions at venues across the Bay Area. See website for offsite schedule details.
Diablo Magazine: Top Tickets: This week, explore visual art, hear from a popular novelist, revisit the music of Billie Holiday, and more.
Excerpt: Through 2/25 The Richmond Art Center’s annual exhibition includes the works of more than 120 creators of African descent and is the longest-running local exhibition of its type. Slate Contemporary Gallery in Oakland has a pair of artists highlighted in the show, Kaya Fortune and Jimi Evins.
The Daily Californian: ‘Art of the African Diaspora’ reveres Black history, present, future
Excerpt: After stepping through the Richmond Art Center’s entrance, visitors immediately begin celebrating Black excellence, as laid bare in the “Art of the African Diaspora.” Gracing the center’s main gallery in every medium imaginable, the exhibition in its entirety unveils how Black identity shifts, evolves and culminates uniquely through the lens of each artist.Cont.
Beginning in 1989, this annual showcase of African American artists is the longest running event of its kind in the Bay Area. The work ranges broadly across media, technique, and genre. A small sampling features: Cynthia Brannvall’s “identity maps,” atlas pages collaged with personal snapshots; Derrick Bell’s faceted portraits painted in color blocks reminiscent of stained glass; Claude Clark’s rough-hewn wooden balusters and walking sticks; Cherisse’s cloth quilt of a girl on a swing in a flowering tree; Alana McCarthy’s painting combining surrealism and photo-realism to capture the feeling of New Orleans; Iconic Vinyl Art’s car hood assemblage portrait of blues musician Howlin’ Wolf; and Nyya Lark’s necklace of small silver twigs. Over 120 artists are featured in the sprawling exhibition.
This fun book form uses no glue whatsoever but still has a very sturdy body that will hold up to being tossed in a backpack or dropped on the floor. Learn to sew a multi section book using precut watercolor paper and create a wrap around cover to hold it all together.
Learn to use an unlikely material for the pages of a sketchbook: packing paper! This material is amazing for drawing, sketching, and painting with opaque media. Paint pens, acrylic paints, and gouache pop off the page in beautiful contrast and typically do not bleed or come through he opposite face of your page.
Richmond Art Center, 2540 Barrett Avenue, Richmond, CA94804
Artists Anne Wolf and Lisa Levine invite you to become part of their ENOUGH Considered portrait project and receive a digital copy of your ENOUGH portrait.
The photographic portrait series created as a collaboration between artist Anne Wolf and photographer Lisa Levine synthesizes the material/somatic and non-material/language/rhetoric of ENOUGH. A simple writing exercise invites participants to reflect on this word.
Each participant is then invited to choose an ENOUGH stamp and apply it directly to their body as a starting point for an embodied gesture of ENOUGH, as a means of healing an old wound or violation, a message of boundaries/protection, or a means of sanctifying one’s own sense of abundance.
This the second of the Enough Photo Sessions to be held at Richmond Art Center as part of Anne Wolf’s ENOUGH Considered project which will be presented as an exhibition in the Summer of 2023.