A day in the life of a BAMPFA employee

BAMPFA gallery
Imad Pasha/File

“It must be such a boring job,” says a man as I look up from my feet.

I offer a generic response, agreeing just to prevent further discussion. I must look bored out of my mind. While there are a several places I could imagine myself besides the museum on a Saturday night, for some reason I take offense at the man’s remark.

There are three hours in a shift, and some days, it’s only a war with time.

If there’s one thing all gallery attendants share, it’s the habits we often pick up to kill time. We shift from leaning against one wall to another, to walking along the cracks in the ground, to listening to muffled conversations between patrons, to tracing the marks on the walls and shadows on the floors.

It’s a quiet space. Except for myself and the featured art, the gallery is empty, and from my perspective in the corner, it seems infinite. The silence resonates and fills space where the occasional echoes of sound fall short. It’s not an uncomfortable silence. Before long, I relax into the space until the sound of another voice on the radio or a question from a patron sounds foreign in my ears, and it takes a second to bring my consciousness back outside of myself.

“Except for myself and the featured art, the gallery is empty, and from my perspective in the corner, it seems infinite.”

There’s something therapeutic about being forced to remove myself from my chaotic life and be able to access only my own thoughts. It’s a forced meditation that makes me hyperaware of nothing but my mental and emotional state and my immediate surroundings.

There are three hours in a shift, but some days, it’s more than just a time-killing game.

I’m one-on-one with the art and those who create it. I scrutinize the labels and the writing on the walls until I can hear the curator in the back of my mind narrating the story that weaves each piece together and brings the art to life.

I’m inside the narrative of the Chinese American Bay Area native exposing his firsthand perspectives of race, imprisonment and poverty in an urban setting.

I’m behind the lens of the Black photographer telling the unabridged story of a Harlem gang leader’s personal life.

I’m in the presence of the Japanese American UC Berkeley graduate expressing her inner conscience after experiencing the confinement of the Japanese internment camps during World War II.

I’m living the history of the disillusioned Chinese painter who continued producing his elegant, humorous, emotional works even in a time of political disarray during a dynastic change.

“I am fascinated with the radical creations from people inspired by culture, nature and an inherently beautiful world.”

My heart is so full because in these galleries, I am consumed by the most compelling and moving ideas from people influenced by social issues and hardship. I am fascinated with the radical creations from people inspired by culture, nature and an inherently beautiful world.

The messages these artists leave behind in the galleries are so alive in a seemingly lifeless space and are as captivating as they are empowering. In these galleries, I feel like I am a part of the incredible narratives — past and present — that represent the unique character of Berkeley and the Bay Area.

And in these galleries, I’m not only surrounded by the art itself but by the people who join me in engaging in it. There are those who simply appreciate the way the strokes and colors come together, the execution of the design or the relationship between subject and background. There are the people who analyze the works in relation to similar productions or themes in their travels or their studies. There are those who knew the artist and their experiences firsthand or who have lived the story the artist tells.

And then there are those of us who spend three hours at a time combing through every piece of art until it either means nothing anymore or until it means everything.

Contact Jasmine Tatah at [email protected].

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