The Bolinas Museum, a staple of Marin art curation since 1987, has opened a new exhibition. Helina Metaferia: All Put Together, curated by Bolinas Museum director Louisa Gloger, runs through Aug. 11.
Artist Helina Metaferia, based in New York City and assistant professor at Brown University, is a first generation Ethiopian-American who grew up in a very politically active family. Her father is a teacher of political science, and her mother, Dr. Maigenet Shifferraw, was president of the Center for the Rights of Ethiopian Women.
Metaferia received her B.A. in painting from Morgan State University, and her M.F.A. in interdisciplinary arts from Tufts University. This combination of the study of different media, an American upbringing by an Ethiopian family, and lifelong political involvement is the framework of Metaferia’s productions, which range from video to collage to live performances.
All Put Together is a multi-dimensional and cross-media show, including collage, tapestry and video, all of which Metaferia uses to express the ongoing project of social progress, and to communicate underrepresented social engagement narratives.
The exhibition’s work is rooted in the history of activism in the United States, particularly through the lens of contemporary BIPOC women.
Among the works displayed in the exhibition are six collages from Metaferia’s Headdress series, each of which is built upon a photograph of a BIPOC, female-identifying individual.
These photos were taken following several performance-as-activism workshops facilitated with students, faculty and staff of Tufts, MassArt, Northeastern and Emerson College in 2021, and atop each portrait sits a headdress, collaged from archived materials of Boston’s activism history.
The resulting images are a masterful integration of the past with the present day. Within the headdress, the viewer moves through years undulating with the liveliness of activism and the power of BIPOC women.
As one would with a historical timeline, the viewer follows the momentum along the headdress, finishing the visual journey at the focal point of the present-day sitter. Nestled below this panoply of power is the individual who now takes up the torch of BIPOC progress.
In an interview with Surface in April, Metaferia explained one of the pieces from the series, Headdress 34, in three words: “regal, heavy, grace.” The piece’s headdress is reminiscent of the 1345 BCE Nefertiti bust, with its signature blue headpiece and golden diadem. The steady, forward gaze of the sitter, upon closer inspection, is the cutout face of an archived activist. The tilt of the chin and the soft yet set expression read profound capacity and grace.
The size and weight of the headdress feels evident but not oppressive. This is not regal in a traditional monarchical sense of the word; it is the regality born from strength in the face of injustice. Persistence through both failure and victory.
Raising awareness around the history behind the piece is part of the artwork. Each of the six pieces from Headdress is carefully accompanied by descriptions, outlining both the work of the individual activist and going into meticulous detail about the source materials for the collage.
“I don’t use Photoshop to make my collages,” said Metaferia in her interview with Surface. “I’m very tactile and am always printing and cutting them by hand in my studio. That’s not easy to tell when looking at a JPG. Also, I don’t use images from the internet in my collages. All the archives come from extensive library research, where librarians are my collaborators… Each collage comes from a meaningful exchange with another human.”
The exhibition also contains a video entitled The Response, which features some of the same BIPOC women represented in Headdress. In Response, an edited video recorded during a Zoom workshop, tribute is paid to the current moment of social justice. Three minutes long, the video includes footage of marching and protests, with low audio through which snippets of declaration begin to be heard.
All Put Together in its entirety reminds that progress, or the labor in pushing for progress, is never linear. The work of change requires both power and vulnerability, and is an ever-evolving process. It pays homage to the culmination of this work in the current landscape, as fraught as it may still be.
“As an artist who works very interdisciplinary, I’m attracted to certain mediums that speak to legacies of resistance. Performance is the language of activism, social practice is the langauge of community organizing, and collage has been used for decades in feminist resistence and critiques on media cutlure. I am interested in the ways activists reclaim the spectacle of the image, especially when the media and propaganda use images against them. I am curious about what gets archived in repositories, and how that process reveals biases.”
See ‘Helina Metaferia: All Put Together’ at the Bolinas Museum Friday between 1pm and 5pm, and Saturday through Sunday from 12pm-5pm. For more information, visit www.bolinasmuseum.org