An artist garbed in white precedes Karen Seneferu and others as they prepare to enter “Black Woman Is God” exhibit in San Francisco in 2016.
Richmond artist Karen Seneferu could not help but notice that she was frequently the only Black artist or the only Black female artist in Bay Area group shows. So she decided to do something about it.
Inspired by the broadness of Richmond’s The Art of Living Black annual exhibit during Black History month, Seneferu held the first “The Black Woman is God” exhibit in 2013. It has done nothing but grow ever since. There were 60 Black female artists participating in 2016, and this year there are 80 “and that means painters, sculptors, mixed media, video – all of the arts that Black women participate in will be shown,” Seneferu said of the exhibit returning to the SOMArts in San Francisco.
The opening night of the show last year occurred just a few days after the police executions of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, La., and Philando Castile in St. Anthony, Minn. In response to the Black community’s grief and rage, about 20 of the artists decided to hold a prayer vigil before the opening, donning white clothes and veils and led a procession into the event at 934 Brannon St.
This year, Seneferu worked with Linda Johnson, a longtime dance instructor and choreographer who was instrumental in bringing African dance to the Bay Area in the 1970s. Instead of having just the exhibiting artists in the vigil and procession, they conceived the idea of having Black women in the community-at-large hold that space. Johnson reached out to longtime friend Anita Brooks, a musician and music teacher, to come up with a song for the women to sing in the procession.
Brooks chose, “We Are All My Sisters,” by Zola Kush and is teaching the women to sing it in three-part harmony. The song has a strong impact on listeners and singers alike.
“One thing I am trying to get them to do,” Brooks said of the women in rehearsals, “is keep their eyes open because the song can take them somewhere else.”
Honored by Johnson’s engagement, Seneferu is also participating in the procession and the rehearsals with the volunteers- who come from all walks of life. “This is very humbling,” she said, “where we have elders, New Age women, children in the same space—It’s a rare peace when that happens.”
“The Black Woman is God” exhibit opens with a public reception on Thursday, July 20, 6 p.m.– 10 p.m.
The free exhibition is on view July 20–Aug. 26. Gallery Hours are Tuesday–Friday noon – 7 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday 11 a.m.–5 p.m. at the SOMArts Cultural Center, 934 Brannan St. (between 8th & 9th) in San Francisco.