“Our whole, unruly selves” spotlights identity and representation through figurative art


Maida Suta

“2014/2020 202 Bay St., Staten Island” (2020), Wardell Milan

Ascending the staircase to the second floor of the San Jose Museum of Art, music faintly trails out of a room as multimedia sculptures and dazzling canvasses come into view.

With over 90 works on display, and some created as far back as the 1960s, “Our whole, unruly selves” explores the boundlessness of human identity and figures, especially those of marginalized communities.

Drawn from the San Jose Museum of Art’s permanent collection alongside works from private collections and other institutions, senior curator Lauren Schell Dickens has organized a profound and moving exhibit.

Created from acrylic, adobe, cardboard, bronze, watercolor, plexiglass and so much more, each piece stands out beautifully, often subverting traditional art conventions.

Historically, museums have often excluded marginalized communities and upheld the comfort of the dominant, even when art centered around the identities of the marginalized have existed for centuries.

Seeing an exhibit dedicated to carving out the space for such communities is incredibly poignant and exciting.

One such piece is “I Think Yew’ve Made Yer Point Now” by Christina Quarles. The figures are fluid and ambiguous, juxtaposed by patterns and blocks of solid color as limbs and torsos fuse together.

Quarles, who identifies as a queer, biracial and cisgender woman, explores what it’s like to live not just as a marginalized individual, but as a member of a community through her sensual depiction of reclining, melding bodies.

Another is “Shadow Over the Land” by Benny Andrews. A lone black boy sits as he is surrounded by frolicking white bodies in a surreal, dream-like landscape.

Andrews dedicated his life to social justice advocacy and the empowerment if Black people, and “Shadow Over the Land” is exemplary of his resistance against the historic limitations of figurative art.

Additionally, “Our whole, unruly selves” offers an Art Learning Lab, encouraging reflection by asking how you see yourself, how others see you, and how you want to be seen.

Resting on a table beside the learning lab are books part of the exhibit’s reading list, including “Kim Ji-young, Born 1982” by Namjoo Cho, “Freshwater” by Akwaeke Emezi and “The Iliac Crest” by Cristina Rivera Garza.

“Our whole, unruly selves” is a truly enriching experience that shouldn’t be missed, and it runs through June 26. Admission is free for students with ID, and $10 without.