.Remembering the Inspirational Susan O’Malley

The Bay Area artist and curator passed away last week.

Last week Wednesday, celebrated Bay Area artist and curator Susan O’Malley passed away at only 38-years-old. O’Malley was in her last week of pregnancy with twins when she collapsed and never regained consciousness. Sadly, her daughters passed away with her. 

Although the news of O’Malley’s passing is heartbreaking, the large body of work that she left behind is especially well-suited for helping the community cope. O’Malley’s work was grounded in inspiration, optimism, and positivity. Mainly text based, her artwork presented poetic phrases of motivation, often in public spaces. O’Malley had been working on a series called “Advice From My 80-year-old Self” in conjunction with Kala Institute’s Print Public exhibition, which will present public art along the San Pablo corridor in West Berkeley throughout the spring (we wrote about it here). For the project, she worked with volunteers from a neighborhood youth organization to interview people in the area, asking them “What advice would your 80-year-old self give you?” O’Malley created posters out of excerpts from the interviews, which will be installed in various public locations along San Pablo. They can also be found here: AdviceFromMyEightyYearOldSelf.com


(Works from “Advice From My 80-year-old Self”.)

In the exhibition statement presented by Kala, O’Malley explains her motivation for the project: “I am also interested in asking this question because I think it’s easy to forget how wise we can be. We resist our internal wisdom because of fear, fatigue, inconvenience or any number of reasons. Hearing other people’s advice reminds me that we are different versions of each other. And sometimes other people’s words magically express exactly what I’m thinking but can’t seem to pull together. While the posters will range from earnest declarations to funny observations, I can only imagine there will be a deepness of experience present in these simple phrases. My hope is that these community-authored public service announcements will reflect back our inner brilliance and perhaps allow a brief space to gently listen to our own advice.”

Today, Christian L. Frock, a journalist, artist, and long-time friend of O’Malley’s, published a thorough, beautifully intimate, and deeply sentimental obituary for O’Malley on KQED Arts. She writes: 

“All of O’Malley’s work, both as artist and curator, reflected a rare generosity and empathy for those around her — to the extent that her boundless enthusiasm sometimes baffled cynics unable to grasp the actual work of optimism. But she knew it was work and she took it very seriously. Under her professional interests on LinkedIn, O’Malley listed: “Making the world a better place. Staying positive in a world that does the opposite.” Hers was a kind of radical positivity not often recognized because it defies every stereotype of radicalism. In a world bogged down daily by trauma in the media, she was a covert revolutionary with her bright colors, inspirational messages, encouragement, enthusiasm, and genuine personality.”

There will be a public family memorial on March 9 at Villa Montalvo (15400 Montalvo Road, Saratoga), where O’Malley was previously an artist-in-residence. After the memorial, the group will embark on “A Healing Walk,” an installation by O’Malley in the woods. A public celebration of her life and contributions as an artist and curator is planned for March 22, 2- 5pm, at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (701 Mission Street, San Francisco). An online memorial has also been erected in her name, featuring space for memories and photos to be added, along with more information: MoreBeautifulThanYouCouldEverImagine.com


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