For the past seven years, Night Light has reigned as SOMArts Cultural Center’s annual audiovisual experience, where installations, live performance, and sound blanket the center as over 800 people witness the postindustrial space transform into a physical and digital manifestation of the application of light in art.
This year, for the first time, the immersive festival extends to two days running Aug. 25–26. In an interesting twist, it responds to themes central to SOMArts’ current exhibit, The Black Woman Is God: Divine Revolution.
Co-curated by Karen Seneferu and Melorra Green, The Black Woman is God returns for its second year at SOMArts to celebrate the black female presence as the highest spiritual form, and to challenge racist and patriarchal perceptions devaluing the black woman’s contributions to society. Founded in 2013, The Black Woman Is God was originally conceived as a corrective to the dearth of African-American representation — especially of female African-American representation — in the art world, according to founder and co-curator Seneferu.
“I recognized that there was a void and that there were certain artists [within the African diaspora] being selected to speak on behalf of black artists. Or [to act] as a vehicle for the white establishment,” explains Seneferu.
Seneferu and Green’s first collaboration in the inaugural exhibit of The Black Woman Is God, at the African American Art and Culture Complex in 2013, drew an overwhelmingly positive response from the local community. Four years later, Divine Revolution acts as “a mirror reflection of ideal representations of beauty, of divinity, of power, of resilience. A reclaiming of historical narrative that, within the African cosmology, the black woman has always been seen as a deity,” says Seneferu. “It's outside of that cosmology where the black woman's body becomes a vehicle or a tool of oppression — and we wanted to reclaim that.”
Green adds, “We started having conversations about rest, about self-care. Various things that anyone can take on, but in particular [to] black women it becomes… a revolutionary act. It’s different in the Bay Area [where] you have high rents and blatant racism. You think, 'What can I do that can be revolutionary?' And sometimes it's simply being able to have 10 minutes to just have a seat.”
Night Light opens up the floor to over 60 mixed-media artists -- including men and other artists of color -- to contribute to the themes central to Divine Revolution, which has been on view since late July and closes after this weekend.
“For someone who’s so used to the world of curation and public programming, my values always center around being audacious with space,” Green shares. “'Where can we do this? Who’s gonna hold this? Who’s gonna break the container?' I’m always seeing what voices we can expand, what space we can bring this movement to. I’m always committed that artists of color have a voice.”
One of those artists is Rayla Meshawn, a dancer and multimedia artist who works to reclaim “the rights to healing” through a unity of sound and movement.
“There was a time in which Black people were banned from openly practicing their beliefs and dancing as they pleased in public,” Meshawn says, with hopes that her performance of ritual practices will reclaim the physical expression previously denied to her ancestors.
Alternatively, a geodesic “healing dome” from the Macro Waves Collective responds to the theme of self-care: a space for people to meditate and find peace away from the turbulent political landscape. Upon entering the inviting space — fuzzy white pillows decorate the dome’s tranquil interior — participants are asked to wear biofeedback sensors, which trigger the installation’s visual and sonic ambiance. The interactive installation is an echo of member Jeffrey Yip’s notion that every revolution starts within.
“It starts with the individual,” he says. “And what better way to do that than to meditate and self-heal?”
“The Black Woman Is God exhibit itself is a revolutionary act,” Seneferu states. “But to have people of color entering into that narrative and reflecting about how they see [divine revolution] in the various mediums of art available to [their] communities is so powerful.”
She takes a short breath, as if to punctuate the importance.
“There's nothing like what's about to happen this August 25th and 26th,” she says. “Nothing like it.”
'Night Light' runs Aug. 25–26 at SOMArts Cultural Center in San Francisco. More details here.