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Angela Davis: Seize the Time

An Exhibit Fit for a Larger-Than-Life Activist

WORDS BY MICHAEL ZARATHUS-COOK | HONG KONG | VISUAL ARTS

NOV 11, 2022 | ISSUE 9

Angela Davis speaks in DeFremery Park at Free Huey Rally - Photo by Stephen Shames, 1969, Oakland, CA - Photo Courtesy of the Exhibit
"Free Angela" by Herb Bruce (1971) - Photo Courtesy of the Exhibit
Angela Davis Speaks to the Press - Photo by Stephen Shames, February 1972 - Photo Courtesy of the Exhibit

The Oakland Museum of California (OMCA) honors activist Angela Davis with Seize the Time, an exhibition detailing her career, accomplishments, and legacy. The exhibit runs from October 7, 2022 until June 11, 2023. Seize the Time debuted at Rutgers University’s Zimmerli Art Museum earlier this year. Like OMCA’s recent exhibitions, All Power to the People: Black Panthers at 50 and Hella Feminist, Seize the Time connects local activism and history with national impacts and worldwide phenomena. The exhibit features four main sections: the first gives visitors background on Davis, the second and third detail her arrest and its aftermath, and the final section covers mass incarceration and Davis’s work on prison abolition.

The exhibition opens with a biographicalsection on Davis, cataloging her work as an educator, her activism, and how the two affected each other. This opening section includes posters, archival newsprints, collages, and photographs from a variety of sources. One of the most prominent source collections is an archive put together by activist and curator Lisbet Tellefsen. These objects and artworks give visitors a background of who Davis was in the years leading up to her arrest: a professor at UCLA, a Communist Party member, and a prominent leader in the Black liberation movement.

The second and third sections of the exhibition cover Davis’s imprisonment, her trial, and the effect it had on the world. In 1970, Davis was placed on the FBI’s “Most Wanted” list while retaining many supporters across the nation. Art, primary source materials, and quotes from Davis herself illustrate the divided nature of the public regarding her trial. They also show how this tension was reflective of larger societal issues affecting the nation at the time: for example, how the “Free Angela” campaign became synonymous to many with “Free all political prisoners.” These efforts culminated in an international grassroots campaign supported by staunch activists and everyday people alike. Historical political paraphernalia and works from the Black Arts Movement give viewers an idea of the diverse ways in which the public supported Davis and others seeking political asylum.

Seize the Time’s last section takes a macroscopic look on mass incarceration by interweaving historical context, contemporary artwork, and Davis’s own work on prison abolition. In recent years, media like 13th and The New Jim Crow made connections between slavery and the modern-day prison industrial complex. This exhibit builds upon that foundation, showing viewers how Davis’s biographical history and work post-trial mapped the movement’s greater trajectory. This final section is a testament to how Davis’s status as a cultural icon continues to inspire artists and activists to create and spread an intersectional awareness of social issues such as civil rights and feminism. Furthermore, the exhibit features tangible takeaways and connections to current events, which, when combined with Davis’s legacy, will inspire visitors to collectivize, advocate and trigger change in their own communities.