At SFAC, a Soulful Exploration of James Baldwin's Legacy in the Bay

Save ArticleSave Article

Failed to save article

Please try again

a black and white photo of James Baldwin, a Black writer and activit, against a black and yellow graphic
'Invincible Black Soul: The Art of Bearing Witness,' inspired by the work of James Baldwin, is on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission through July 8.  (courtesy of SF Art Commission)

A new art exhibition curated by San Francisco artist Mark Harris pays homage to the prolific writer and activist James Baldwin, 60 years after Baldwin’s visit to San Francisco in the spring of 1963.

Titled Invincible Black Soul: The Art of Bearing Witness, and on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery through July 8, it was partially inspired by the 1964 KQED documentary Take this Hammer, which captured Baldwin’s Bay Area visit.

a collage with the printed words 'black exodus'
‘Black Exodus,’ 2018, by Mark Harris. Mixed media on Panel. (Courtesy of the artist)

“He took it as his calling to bear witness to what was going on. And he’s inspired so many people, so many artists,” Harris says.

The show features Harris’ own work, which centers the practice of mixed-media collage, along with two of his longtime friends and fellow Bay Area artists: Raymond L. Haywood, an abstract expressionist, and Bryan Keith Thomas, who makes sculpture and paintings heavily inspired by symbols in Black history. Harris says the show overall is a bold statement following in Baldwin’s tradition.

a collage with black and white photos of young Black folks
‘Passport One,’ 2023, by Bryan Keith Thomas. Mixed media collage on paper. (Courtesy of the artist)

“[We’re] letting people know Black artists are still here in the Bay Area, and we’re creating work about what’s going on, about what we’re seeing,” Harris says. “When [Baldwin] was here 60 years ago, this wouldn’t have been possible, right? They wouldn’t have given three Black artists the main gallery of the Arts Commission to say anything. And now I’m here, saying exactly what I want to say.”

an abstract expressionist collage
‘The Love,’ 2020, by Raymond L. Haywood. Acrylic and mixed media on wood panel. (Courtesy of the artist)


‘Invincible Black Soul: The Art of Bearing Witness’ is on view at the San Francisco Arts Commission Main Gallery through July 8. More info here.