Krowswork exhibit ‘Headspace’ reflects on relationships within the black community in the Bay Area

Oakland-based artist Sasha Kelley attempts to capture moments of intimacy in her photography

Sasha Kelley/Courtesy

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Coinciding with this month’s edition of Art Murmur was the opening of “Headspace,” a solo exhibition at the Krowswork Gallery featuring the work of Oakland-based artist Sasha Kelley. On view through July 13, Kelley’s work depicts relationships within the black community in the Bay Area through the use of photographs, video and installation, as well as textual commentary and poetry. More than just documenting certain moments and relationships, however, “Headspace” offers a deeper reflection on black life and the connection between people and places.

The exhibit essentially consists of three rooms (or, rather, “headspaces”) that each convey its own theme, message and mood. Featured in one of the rooms is a large video projection and an installation piece consisting of several TV screens, both presenting clips that document the interaction between the artist and her partner — clips presumably shot in the couple’s home. In effect, the visitor can simultaneously watch the couple embrace affectionately on one screen and moments of individual solitude on another. Presented alongside these pieces are works of poetry. Recording moments of joy, anger and silence, these video clips are at once strikingly intimate, removed, playful and thoughtful.

The middle room of the exhibit consists of a collection of black-and-white photographs arranged in a square formation on one of the walls. Shot in settings such as backyards, public transportation and sidewalks around the Bay Area, these photographs have a rough quality and edge. The potentially serene image of two youths eating ice cream is invested with a grim ambience due to its concrete backdrop and the defiant, guarded glares of the subjects. The sense of difficulty and distress exuded by the photographs is underlined by their placement in a square, making their impact even more dynamic and forceful. Despite the somber environments, however, the feeling of a strong black community nevertheless shines through these images — a community that comes together for parades, dancing and celebration. Especially captivating is the touching image of three young boys on a living room carpet, saying grace before their meal of delivery pizza, and that of a young girl, clearly in a state of agitation, standing amid a group of youths on the sidewalk.

The third room of the exhibit contains a handful of photographs displayed along its walls. The difference in atmosphere created by the photos featured in this room and those in the middle room is immediate and striking, noticeable at first simply due to the transition from black-and-whites to color photographs. These final images radiate warmth, joy and creativity. There is, among others, the photo of a young couple coming together for a lingering kiss; that of an artist immersed in work in a vibrant, colorful studio; and that of two girls smiling contagiously at the camera in a summer setting. Having these photos spread out evenly around the room rather than in a concentrated composition creates the feeling of being enveloped by their warm aura.

Although the exhibit doesn’t necessarily suffer from its absence, having simple captions providing information on the location and subject matter of the photographs would have been a gratifying addition. Given the fact that the exhibit is anchored in a specific geographic area, it would have been interesting as an observer to be able to identify more closely with this setting. Regardless, the profound nature of Kelley’s “Headspace” speaks for itself through the mediums employed — spaces filled with adversity but also spaces of community, joy, beauty and love.

Contact Corinne Platten at [email protected].