“This is about the collective experience we’ve had in isolation. We’ve all experienced and held this trauma together, this weight and anxiety. I wanted to create this space for healing.” When local Filipina artist, Hueman, announced this at the premiere of her immersive art event “Homebody,” she meant it.
Connection, for her, isn’t simply an abstract concept—it’s a physical act that can be experienced with others through her art, which is currently on display at Berkeley’s Ciel Creative Space from Jan. 28 until Feb. 20.
The gallery—newly transformed into 20,000 square feet of interactive and reality-augmented murals, paintings and walk-through spaces—is a fresh take on the isolation we’ve all experienced during this pandemic, and its effects on the way we interact with one another.
How can artists share their work when there is so much unrest in the world? Is art frivolous in the face of tragedy and unprecedented social distancing? Why do we create, and what is the purpose of community and togetherness?
These are the questions that Hueman’s art directly—and subversively—asks. By incorporating a fusion of colors, mediums, lighting effects and Bay Area references, viewers obtain a layered look at the many phases she personally grappled with as a creator and mother trying her best to maintain a sense of self throughout the past two years of Covid.
“It was weird. We all lost our sense of self and identity. I wondered if art was even important during this time. Who am I if I can’t create art?” she asked the large, opening night audience.
But her artwork speaks for itself. Her inner reflection is colorfully and genuinely depicted around the venue in masterful ways, including a “Self Portrait” series, which spans 470 days and features roughly 30 variations of the artist painting her own face—or some version of her warped reflection—on see-through canvases. It’s one way that she invites us to think about the transformations we have all undergone within ourselves during the past 24 months, and how the versions of who we are, who we were and how we carry ourselves each day moving forward are permeable and fluid, especially in times of distress.
The exhibit features an abundance of technological engagement tools, such as augmented reality, in which a QR code allows the viewer to scan certain paintings or installations with their phone, activating a range of interactive opportunities—from a floating quote of text to 3D-styled objects—to be discovered. It serves as an alternative pathway into thinking about how we occupy space and self through the mirror of art fused with technology.
As someone who isn’t particularly schooled in the growing world of digital-reality and augmented-tech, I wasn’t sure if it was something I would like. But after experiencing it for the first time with Hueman’s body of work, I admit it does create a higher degree of engagement and playfulness than I have felt in some time. It provided a necessary feeling of communal joy and celebration, of reflection and dialogue, of being outside again while finding new ways to move forward through the marriage of art and technology that anyone who has ever used a phone or Instagram can easily navigate. Or, more simply, it’s just fun.
Watching people of all ages—from children to grandparents—walking around the gigantic space, wandering into various rooms and becoming a part of the projected images while taking their phones out to discover hidden meanings literally encoded as QR codes, was surprisingly more connective than disconnective. It never took away from the reality of the art experience to be had IRL; instead, it provided an additional dimension through which to interpret not only the artist’s vision, but the audience’s communication with it.
The project is a collaboration of various partnerships helping to fund and organize the large-scale project—from major players like the Golden State Warriors to local orgs such as Endeavors Oakland—who are constantly involved in promoting neighborhood-based art for and by historically underserved communities and were involved as executive producers. It further reflects the spirit of the artwork, which ultimately centers on home, representation and gathering.
“This took a whole year to put together. We had no outsiders involved. It was made by us, for love of our community,” said Cecilia Caparas Apelin, CEO and co-founder of Ciel Creative Space.
In a time of cultural displacement throughout the Bay Area, it’s more important than ever to see a group of women of color come together to empower one another—and in doing so, reflect the energy of their experiences. Their notion of community was palpable on opening night, which featured a 20-year-anniversary performance by Oakland’s Goapele and DJ D Sharp, in addition to myriad volunteers like Bay Area artist Tracy Williams.
The event truly felt like a return to physical space, to our bodies, to connectivity.
The host for the night, Malina Jones—a San Francisco native and visual artist herself—put it best when she welcomed us all back to the nurturing we’ve all been missing: “This is a bridging of the Bay as one body,” she said. “This is real life community activation and natural alignment. This is a combination of superpowers to make magic. This is home.”