Queer Stories Reign Supreme at the Oakland Museum of California

On April 13, the museum will debut a exhibit dedicated to telling queer narratives that include a dandy bachelor in a Japanese internment camp, commemorative art for Compton’s Cafeteria Riot, and more.
March 22, 2019, 8:33pm
oakland queer exhibit
Photos courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California/Joonbug/Danny Allegretti 

On April 13, 2019, the Oakland Museum of California will open a new exhibition of art and historical objects honoring the untold and under-recognized stories of California’s LGBTQ+ communities. According to the museum Queer California: Untold Stories is the first exhibition of its kind in California, incorporating queer historical materials, artifacts, and archival documents, as well as representations of social activism, contemporary artwork, costumes, and ephemera.

Beyond this, visitors and members of the queer community will also be able to add their voices and stories to the collection through interactive displays. Drawing on the “histories of struggle for self-determination” the museum positions this exhibition as a means to imagine a more inclusive future. Broadly rounded up ten artists to know who are showing work in the landmark exhibition.


Photo by Hailey Bollinger for Amanda Curreri i


Amanda Curreri is an artist and educator living in Cincinnati, Ohio whose interdisciplinary work aims to create conversations between “artworks, viewers, and within actual and constructed feminist, radical, and queer historiographies”. She executes this vision through the use of textiles such as flags, garments, and banners as they innately reference social issues including labor and class. In the exhibition, she will be showing one flag-based work, which is a re-do of Gilbert Baker’s seminal Rainbow Flag, as well as two new banners, which spotlight early logos of gay social and political organizations from archival research. Curreri told Broadly, “I think queerness for me, and art, has everything to do with liberation. My teaching and my artwork address this as a lived and long-term experiment.”


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Videomaker and interdisciplinary artist Chris E. Vargas, currently lives in Bellingham, WA where he is an assistant professor at Western Washington University. In his work, he uses humor and performance to explore the experiences of marginalized people. One of his largest undertaking is an ongoing institution called the Museum of Transgender History & Art (MOTHA), which honors the visual history of transgender culture through performances, videos, exhibits, panel discussions, and more. For the Oakland Museum exhibition, the artist designed a building façade for MOTHA and worked with curator Christina Linden on an installation of art and archival work that narrates the Bay Area’s trans history. Still, Vargas told Broadly, “I think there are many layered and intersecting LGBTQ+ histories, and very divergent queer politics in California and this exhibition may only just scratch the surface.”



A percussionist and visual artist, DJ Brown Amy is a queer Chicanx and member of The Q-Sides project, a collaboration with artist Vero Majano and photographer Kari Orvik. Together the trio work to make queer representation visible within the lowrider community, one that tends to be heteronormative, by reinterpreting iconic compilation album covers. About the project, Brown Amy says, “It's something I hold really close to my heart because it’s grounded in personal experience and creating representation I didn’t see as a kid.” Brown Amy says they want to acknowledge the Chochenyo Ohlone land this exhibit will be on and feels honored to have the Q-Sides’ work in the show.


Photo courtesy of Moran Moran


Currently a fellow at Harvard and living in Los Angeles, Eve Fowler is a multidisciplinary artist working across media including painting, collage, sculpture, photography, film, and audio. But at the center of her work is collaboration as she makes a conscious effort to partner with fellow creatives on various projects, particularly under an exhibition series she started called Artist Curated Projects. In this exhibition, she will show several works, including an LP comprised of the casual reading of two important Gertrude Stein works (“Miss Furr and Miss Skeene” and “Q.E.D.”) as well as silkscreen prints and a vinyl text piece. Her work can be found in the permanent collections of the Hammer Museum, the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and the Smithsonian Institution.


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Artist Grace Rosario Perkins believes the medium of painting allows her work to have a direct relationship with her body while the act of painting itself is almost akin to an improvised dance. Moreover, she sees the practice as a means for deconstructing and reconstructing her identity by using layers of objects and images to reference cultural dissonance, language, and history. Currently based in both Oakland and Albuquerque, Perkins has spent much of her life moving between cities, the Navajo Nation, and the Gila River Indian Community. “As an indigenous woman, I’m interested in both purveying and cultivating culture,” she tells Broadly. Perkins will be showing three works in the Queer California exhibit, including two on paper and one on canvas.


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist Kaucyila Brooke often uses large-scale photomontages, photo novellas, and photographic archives to address the politics of cultural production and sexual representation. For example, in her ongoing series, Tit for Twat, she re-codes Genesis, the biblical creation story, reframing the narrative using lesbian sexual imagery. Seeing photography as an object, the artist first began taking pictures because she didn’t see images of women that she liked. Thus, she created images of women’s communities she wanted to look at. In Queer California, she will showcase selections from her ongoing series, The Boy Mechanic, in which she has been documenting the social history of lesbian bars by photographing their present and former locations in places such as San Diego, Oakland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, and Cologne.


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Living and working in the Bay Area, transdisciplinary artist Nicki Green mainly uses craft processes and sculpture work to examine the aesthetics of otherness as well as the preservation of history through conceptual ornamentation. Currently she’s an artist in residence at the John Michael Kohler Art Center in Sheboygan, Wisconsin, where she is studying the intersections of bathroom design, gender, and queer liberation. According to her, the mutability of clay feels trans-centric as it’s often used to mimic other materials. In her work she attempts to answer the question: “How can we utilize [ceramic] material effectively as queer and trans people knowing that the objects we make will outlast our bodies significantly?” The Queer California exhibit includes two of her mugs that commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Compton’s Cafeteria Riot (1966) in San Francisco, in which queer people fought back against police brutality using dishware. The “diner style” mugs were thrifted and given an altered logo of the diner chain reflecting the riot.


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Based in the Bay Area, 52-year-old artist Tina Takemoto is an artist and scholar who explores queer Asian American history and identity through performance art and experimental film. They particularly focus on the hidden dimensions of same-sex intimacy and queer sexuality for Japanese Americans who were incarcerated by the US government during World War II. According to the artist, depictions of these experiences are extremely rare, and thus she uses their work to imagine how these people survived living in isolation and dealing with the heteronormativity of wartime incarceration. For this exhibition, they will showcase Looking for Jiro, an experimental film inspired by a dandy gay bachelor named Jiro Onuma who worked in the prison mess halls, whose personal collection belongs to the GLBT Historical Society archive. Takemoto told Broadly, “I can think of no better way to honor the queer legacy of Jiro Onuma, who lived, loved, and died in San Francisco’s Japantown.”


Photo courtesy of the Oakland Museum of California


Young Joon Kwak is a 34-year-old artist living in Los Angeles who works primarily across sculpture, performance, and video to rethink bodies and space. Aiming to transform the perception of queer, trans, marginalized bodies by reimagining their form, functionality, and materiality, Kwak is interested in the, “unique potential for the hybrid language that's formed between these mediums to counteract the dehumanizing effects of the objectification, policing, and misrepresentation of othered bodies endemic to this world.” Moreover, the artist is the founder of Mutant Salon, a beauty platform for experimental performance collaborations with their QTPOC artists and performers while they are also is lead performer in the electronic-dance-noise band Xina Xurner. The artist recognizes that it’s impossible to represent all queer identities in such an exhibition, saying that “queerness can never be fully contained, it is always on the horizon, the not-yet here and now, the unknown.”


Photo by Lise Silva


Living and working in Oakland, California, multidisciplinary artist Yetunde Olagbaju makes work that champions empathy and healing. Pairing moving and static images with sound, they explore the interconnectedness of human relationships, vulnerability, and emotionality while also attempting to capture what a queer future might look like. Another major consideration in their work is the human relationship to the Blackness of the universe. For this exhibition, the artist will be showing a video in which they recorded their friends’ voices create a safe space in an unsafe world. Currently, they are serving as the Lead Curator-in-Residence at SOMArts, pursuing an MFA at Mills College, and act as the Creative and Executive Director of There is No Time, a creative space for emerging Black and Brown artists.

In a previous version on this article, Chris E. Vargas' pronoun was incorrectly "their" instead of "he."