The New ICA San Francisco Opens Its Doors With an Artist-Curated Show About Black Women and Freedom

The Bay Area’s newest institution, the ICA San Francisco, celebrated the final phase of its opening last night, unveiling its biggest gallery space with a compelling group show on the importance of celebrating Black beauty, rest, and self expression, curated by California artists Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon.

Titled “Resting Our Eyes,” the exhibition features works from both big names and rising stars, with impressive loans by the likes of Carrie Mae Weems, Derrick Adams, Sadie Barnette, Genevieve Gaignard, and Simone Leigh.

Breon, who lives in Los Angeles, and Rasheed, who is from Oakland, met through the For Freedoms artist collective. (Group cofounder Hank Willis Thomas is among the artists featured in the show, along with his mother, photographer Deborah Willis.)

“So many people within the network just kept on assuming that we knew each other,” Breon told Midnight Publishing Group News at the exhibition’s opening reception. When they were finally introduced, the connection was instant.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at "Resting Our Eyes" at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by  Vikram Valluri for BFA.

Curators Tahirah Rasheed and Autumn Breon at “Resting Our Eyes” at the ICA San Francisco. Photo by Vikram Valluri for BFA.

The two have spent the past year curating “Resting Our Eyes,” which offers a taste of founding ICA director Alison Gass’s socially minded vision for the institution, which looks to focus on under-represented voices in the art world.

The show’s theme was inspired by the Combahee River Collective, a group of Black feminists who began meeting in 1974.

“Basically the idea is that if and when black women are free, everyone else in the world will inevitably be free, because the systems that oppress black women would have to be dismantled and everyone else would benefit from it,” Breon said.

“When T and I started thinking about the mechanisms for freedom, we kept going back to leisure and adornment,” she added. “We were looking for the artwork that tells the story how we adorn ourselves and how we prioritize rest, because we see both of those as really necessary acts.”

See some of the works from the show below.

Adana Tillman, <em>Wild Things</em> (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Adana Tillman, Wild Things (2020). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Gaignard, <em>Look What We've Become</em> (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Gaignard, Look What We’ve Become (2020). Collection of Bob Rennie, Vancouver. Photo by Jeff Mclane, courtesy of the artist and Vielmetter, Los Angeles.

Sadie Barnette, <em>Easy in the Den</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Sadie Barnette, Easy in the Den (2019).
Photo courtesy of the artist and Jessica Silverman, San Francisco.

Hank Willis Thomas, <em>Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter)</em> (1971/2008) from "Unbranded: Reflections in Black by Corporate America." Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Hank Willis Thomas, Kama Mama, Kama Binti (Like Mother, Like Daughter) (1971/2008) from “Unbranded: Reflections in Black by
Corporate America.” Collection of the Jordan Schnitzer Family Foundation. Photo by Aaron Wessling Photography.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Lauren Halsey, <em>Untitled</em> (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Lauren Halsey, Untitled (2021). Photo by Allen Chen, courtesy of David Kordansky Gallery, Los Angeles.

Traci Bartlow, <em>Girl Boss</em> (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Traci Bartlow, Girl Boss (1996). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, <em>Headdress 1</em> (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Helina Metaferia, Headdress 1 (2019). Photo courtesy of the artist.

Carrie Mae Weems, <em>The Blues</em> (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Carrie Mae Weems, The Blues (2017). Collection of Jeffrey N. Dauber and Marc A. Levin. Photo courtesy of the Dauber/Levin Collection.

Ebony G. Patterson, <em>...they wondered what to do...for those who bear/bare witness</em> (2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Ebony G. Patterson, …they wondered what to do…for those who bear/bare witness
(2018). Photo courtesy of the artist and Monique Meloche Gallery, Chicago.

Resting Our Eyes” is on view at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, 901 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, January 21–June 25, 2023. 

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Johannesburg-Based Curator Londi Modiko on Her Mission to Empower Black Women Creatives

Londi Modiko has unabashedly set out to change the South African art world.

For over a decade, the Johannesburg-based curator and art advisor has been working on innovative programming that champions the nation’s artists, institutions, and curators.

“As a Black woman from agricultural KwaZulu Natal, I am very aware of my responsibility to show Black kids that this is something that they can do too, that this is something that is in their realm of possibility,” she explained. 

Currently an associate director at Goodman Gallery, Modiko has driven a bevy of cultural and institutional initiatives focused on rethinking the contemporary art landscape.

In 2020, she co-founded the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art (INCCA), a nonprofit organization that supports independent curatorial projects. For several years before that, she ran An Art Agency, through which she advised major South African collectors.

She even gave the art-fair model a go, co-founding Underline, a fair for independent curators, publishers, and print studios that was a major hit of the 2019 Johannesburg art week.

Recently, we caught up with Modiko to hear her thoughts on the future of the art world and what she’s focused on now.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

How did you find your way in the art world and to your current career?

I have always had a perpetual curiosity and invested a lot of time in immersing myself in all things visual arts. After graduating from art school, I was hired as an intern at an intaglio print studio in Johannesburg. That was the beginning of my interesting trajectory in the art world, which now spans just over 13 years. I have worked my way up in a number of art institutions. However, the highlight of my career has been the last three years, where I worked independently as a curator and art advisor.

I often get asked if I planned to be an arts practitioner and curator, but truthfully I didn’t really know it was a real profession until I had graduated from undergrad. I thought I’d become an artist after graduating, but my path led me into preferring to being in the background. This is probably because I’ve always been attracted to learning and history and the little details that most people don’t have time for. Everything has stemmed from pure curiosity and my interest in the creative manifestations of the human mind.

As a lifelong art lover, what was the first work you ever purchased for yourself?

I’ve been collecting art throughout my career, even when my salary could barely cover my necessities. The one that stands out is a wooden carved sculpture of a couple by the late Johannes Segogela. I acquired the piece from the Goodman Gallery. His attention to detail in these small sculptures reveals a close observation of life. I also really appreciate how the features on the faces, clothing buttons, ties, and especially shoes are rendered with such care.

Have you had any mentors in the art world?

I’ve not really had a mentor in the art world. The industry here is young and most of my older colleagues have been focused on trying to figure things out for themselves. However, I’ve been fortunate enough to have a network of people in non-creative fields who’ve been very generous with their expertise and guidance, which I’ve been able to apply to my art career. My business partner and co-founder of the Independent Network for Contemporary Culture and Art, Lara Koseff, who’s an exceptional curator, has also been a great confidant.

Can you tell me more about INCCA and why you felt drawn to found this non-profit?

INCCA is a nonprofit cultural organization that realizes independent projects and creates new platforms for visual artists, collectives, curators, and other cultural practitioners. My partners, Lara Koseff, Nthabiseng Mokoena, and I founded the group because we wanted an alternative art world. We wanted to pioneer new ways of sharing art and cultural ideas. We’re working on a number of exciting projects with various collaborators. 

What do you see as your role in the art world?

As an art practitioner, I hope to encourage people of my identity to be open to engaging and enjoying art. When it comes to the work that I’ve done and hope to do, I strongly believe that my role is to advance the art world by putting out exciting projects that empower artists, curators, and cultural practitioners. I hope to become a powerful advocate for art.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

Underline Show, 2019. Photograph by Siphosihle Mkhwanazi.

What are some of the projects you’re working on that you’re excited about?

The work I do through our INCCA excites me. The possibilities are limitless. I enjoy exploring my passion outside of the “white cube” art systems. At the moment INCAA is working on a collaborative traveling public-art project. I’m mentoring a group of women artists through a mentorship program. It is fulfilling for me to impart the art knowledge I’ve acquired throughout my career. I’ve also recently returned to the world-renowned Goodman Gallery to take up the position of associate director at the Johannesburg space.

Who are the artists you’re most excited about right now?

I am enjoying this moment in art where there are practically no rules. Over the last four years, artists that are based in Durban have been of great interest to me. I also follow the program at Bkhz Gallery closely, as I think they are the most exciting young gallery in the country. BKHZ gallery is a space founded by artist Banele Khoza. His vision for the space is for Black young creatives to showcase their art with a support system. I love everything they do and what they stand for.

I understand that nowadays when this question is posed to people like me, it is meant to highlight which artists are likely to be a good return on investment. Some art collectors want to predict who’s going to hit it big, but honestly you really never know. You need to get out there, talk to the artists, and look for your own excitement in discovery. You really have to start there.

What do you imagine the art world of the future might look like?

I hope the future of the art world encourages transparency and goodwill when it comes to the sharing of art ideas. I also hope that the art environment that is entrenched in white capitalist patriarchy will evolve and realize the importance of having Black women occupy a range of executive roles in the arts without tokenism. The future of the art world is here. There are now smaller economies with more utopian underpinnings. In summary, I imagine an alternative art world!

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6 Major Archaeological Discoveries That Suggest Ancient Women Around the World Were Way More Powerful Than You May Believe

We like to think we know what our ancient female forebears were like. Yet a spate of recent discoveries confirms the truth: that we really have no idea.

Clues from ancient texts and archaeological studies can give us a succinct picture of the important roles women have always played (and almost always without applause). So to give them their due, we rounded up a list of the major achievements of ancient women, the original revolutionaries subverting the gender roles we have in place today.

A bronze Archaic Greek figure of a running girl. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

A bronze Archaic Greek figure of a running girl. © The Trustees of the British Museum.

Bronze statuettes show that Spartan women—also known as “thigh flashers”—were celebrated athletes.

In contrast with the lives of most ancient Greek women, female citizens of Sparta were heavily involved in athletics from childhood, beginning with a state-supervised program that was intended to produce strong mothers of strong warriors.

Around 40 bronze figurines from the Archaic Period depict Spartan women mid-sprint, with their hand lifting the hem of their tunics to expose a firm upper leg, a habit which earned them the nickname “thigh flashers” during the 6th century BC.

The moniker dates back to original accounts describing the women as wearing “loose tunics” while running or wrestling (even against men), and the statuettes deviate from the typical Ancient Greek female form to suggest Spartans idealized women with slender bodies, smaller breasts, and a more muscular build.

Wealthy Roman women could act as benefactors.

While Roman law gave women no legal status, findings suggest that affluent women found ways to exercise influence through investments.

The discovery of a bronze coin in Paestum, Italy, inscribed with the name Mineia marked the rare commemoration of a female citizen in Ancient Rome. Issued in 1st century B.C., details reveal that she sponsored the rebuilding of Paestum’s basilica following the death of her husband, Cocceius Flaccus, a senator and officer under Julius Caesar.

What’s more, a bevy of clay bricks continually being unearthed in the Roman harbor of Portus bear the stamp of Domitia Lucilla Minor, the mother of the emperor Marcus Aurelius. As the owner of clayfields across the empire, Domitia was a crucial player in brick manufacturing, making her an ambitious business woman hardly confined to the home or whims of male family members.

A researcher studying what was previously believed to be the world's oldest figurative art in a Borneo cave. The find has been supplanted by a new discovery in Indonesia. Photo by Pindi Setiawan.

A researcher studying ancient figurative art in a Borneo cave in Indonesia. Photo by Pindi Setiawan.

Ancient women may be responsible for the majority of cave artwork.

Scholars have historically pushed the theory that men etched cave drawings as a means of archiving their past hunts or attempting to bring luck to a future pursuit. But a

study reported in National Geographic analyzing ancient handprints threatens to debunk the longtime assumption that men were responsible for cave paintings, instead indicating that women were behind a staggering 75 percent of the artworks.

Unlike men, women’s index and ring fingers tend to be equal in length. For the analysis, led by archaeologist Dean Snow of Pennsylvania State University, researchers compared finger lengths in hand stencils and handprints taken from eight caves across France and Spain and ranging from 12,000 to 40,000 years old. After running measurements through an algorithm, conclusions determined that three-quarters belonged to women.

A Spanish grave site indicates women may have been Bronze Age political rulers.

A fresh discovery at La Almoloya, a Bronze Age palace located in Southeastern Spain, is shaking up archaeologists’ understanding of women’s roles in El Argar society, suggesting that women were not only considered adults earlier in life than men, but also may have also held political clout.

A two-person grave holding a man and woman was found in the ancient site’s political sector, and was stocked with 29 objects—including, most significantly, a silver diadem—implying a high social status.

The crown in particular piqued researchers’ interests, given that this item has only ever been found buried with women. So the discoveries imply that women were bestowed with items in their grave at an earlier age than their male counterparts.

Excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa. Courtesy Randall Haas.

Excavations at Wilamaya Patjxa. Courtesy Randall Haas.

Ancient women were likely hunter-gatherers.

The 9,000-year-old remains of a teenage girl—affectionately dubbed Wilamaya by the team of researchers—is yet another piece in a growing puzzle of evidence that women participated in hunts alongside men.

Taking her name from the dig site of Wilamaya Patjxa, the ancient teen was buried with an array of tools used for hunting large animals: a projectile, a knife, and other miscellaneous items geared towards processing game.

“The implements were neatly stacked in a small pile right near her hip,” Randall Haas, head of the dig, told Midnight Publishing Group News. “Now we have enough cases that we can be fairly confident” about the existence of women hunters.

Other details support this assertion: an expert rendering of Wilmaya portrays her with a hairstyle matching those seen in rock art of the area.

The Venus of Willendorf and similar ancient sculptures may have represented the ideal female form in the Ice Age.

The hourglass figure may have been en vogue during the Ice Age.

Writing in the journal Obesity, three academics posited that the iconic Venus of Willendorf and related Venus figures were heirlooms passed down from generations in order to convey “ideals in body size for young women”—with some women potentially having even worn them as amulets in hopes of achieving a curvier shape.

The authors also cited the location of glaciers as having a direct impact upon the build of the Venus sculptures, theorizing that the closer the glacier, the more buxom the figure.

As Darwin would have it, the ultimate goal behind a higher fat count was procreation. Due to harsh climates, women in the Ice Age were at risk of compromised pregnancies, and a more voluptuous figure thereby provided a “source of energy during gestation through the weaning of the baby and as well as much needed insulation.”

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A Newly Discovered Ancient Grave Site in Spain Suggests That Women May Have Been Bronze Age Political Rulers

An archaeological site at La Almoloya, in what is now the southeastern Spanish region of Murcia, has yielded a burial site of an upper-class couple that offers tantalizing evidence that Bronze Age women may have held great political power.

La Almoloya is one of the first Bronze Age palaces in Western Europe, and was the home of the El Argar society, which thrived from ca. 2200 to 1550 BC. The complex society was highly stratified by class and their cities featured monumental structures.

The couple’s grave yielded a trove of precious goods. Cristina Rihuete Herrada, an archaeologist at the Autonomous University of Barcelona and one of the discoverers of the burial, tells the New York Times that women in Argaric society may have had greater political power than previously thought, while men may have been in charge of military matters.

Among the factors that suggest a unique status for women, say the authors of the study, published in the journal Antiquity, are that some objects of value are found only in female graves, and that women appear to have graduated into adulthood earlier, based on their having been given grave goods at a younger age. Crucially, only women were given diadems, or band-like metal crowns.

The grave in question contains a woman buried atop a man, both in a large jar beneath the floor of a grand hall. The building is unique among hundreds of Argar finds, say the authors, and was a political headquarters.

Both people appear to have died mid-17th century BC, at the height of Argar society. The 29 valuable objects buried with them suggest their upper-class status.

Valuable silver objects adorn the woman, such as hair fasteners, earlobe plugs, bracelet and ring. Most importantly, she wore a silver, headband-like crown. It is one of only a half-dozen discovered in Argaric graves to date.

“Imagine the diadem with a disc going down to the tip of her nose,” Rihuete Herrada told the New York Times. “It’s shining. You could actually see yourself in the disc. Framing the eyes of that woman, it would be a very, very impressive thing to see. And the ability of somebody to be reflected—their face in another face—would have been something shocking.”

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