The Culture is the Cure: Artists as First Responders

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Ashara Ekundayo sits in her Oakland gallery, which she plans to close soon in order to make time to write a book. (Pendarvis Harshaw/KQED)

The Ashara Ekundayo Gallery in Oakland is a space where black womxn artists are celebrated. Every piece ever shown was made by someone who identifies as such. Unfortunately, after nearly seven years of operating in two different locations, the gallery will be closing its doors on December 13th. But before it closes, Ekundayo is putting on one last exhibition, “Adjust Yo Eyes for This Darkness.”

As artwork was unboxed and the walls were repainted for the final show, I talked to Ekundayo about why she’s stepping away from the role of gallery owner.

She told me that change is something that’s in the air in Oakland; You can literally hear the sound of the constant construction bleed through her gallery walls.

But, through talking to her, I realized change is a bit more nuanced. In the midst of displacement and construction, people are still pursuing dreams, falling in love, and seeking major life changes. In Ashara’s case, she wants to write a book about how artists use their work as a first response to oppressive situations. After all, that’s how she used the gallery space.

And she isn’t totally stepping away from using art in a physical space to combat social issues, she has some big plans in the works.


So, although she’s closing the gallery, it’s not a “sad goodbye” thing. No, the sentiment is more of a “congratulations for all you’ve achieved, and we’re looking forward to the next step.”