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SLO Museum of Art exhibit touches on BIPOC perspective in white-based activities

Artist April Banks directed her team while putting together her exhibit, 'Outlandish,' at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.
Yalina Harris
Artist April Banks directed her team while putting together her exhibit, 'Outlandish,' at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

An exhibit that focuses on cultural identity and bringing forward the perspective of Black-Indigenous, People of Color, or BIPOC communities is now at the San Luis Obispo Museum of Art.

It's called ‘Outlandish.'

When you first enter the exhibit, the walls are covered in different shades of green and blue paint. And, some of them are adorned with tools, like a shovel, broom and kayak paddle.

An orange metal staircase decorated with small bottles is meant to take viewers to an imaginary world called 'Yemaluna.'
Yalina Harris
An orange metal staircase decorated with small bottles is meant to take viewers to an imaginary world called 'Yemaluna.'

But the immersive part of the exhibit is in the center of the room. A metal orange staircase decorated with small bottles leads to a projection of clouds. Visitors can hear the artist's voice guiding you through a meditation into a world called Yemaluna.

April Banks, the artist, said the name Yemaluna is a combination of two words — an African goddess name, Yemaya, and the Latin word, Luna.

Banks said when viewers listen to her voice and view Yemaluna, she wants them to reimagine the world and everything important to them.

“The idea is that, this place, which is imaginary, which is a metaphor, is challenging all the things that are challenging us,” Banks said.

Banks said, among the challenges in the real world is the treatment of BIPOC people in predominantly white activities like swimming, hiking or surfing

“I feel like as people of color, we're always, in this space of fighting for rights, equality, access, [and] opportunity,” Banks said.

She said she questions what happens to the imagination and the space for dreaming in BIPOC communities, when they’re constantly fighting for acceptance into these spaces.

She referenced a personal experience she had while surfing at Morro Strand State Beach.

The Outlandish exhibit displays tools, like a shovel, broom and kayak paddle on its walls.
Yalina Harris
The Outlandish exhibit displays tools, like a shovel, broom and kayak paddle on its walls.

"There's always sadly, racist incidents, even in the water like territory battles in the water. It's literally like, how [do] you own the water? It is constant movement, like, so what are we talking about here?"

Banks thinks in order to build a more accessible and understanding world, viewers should recognize her experience and other BIPOC perspectives.

“I hope that people will start to challenge some of the things that we take most for granted or that we assume are just the way that they are,” Banks said.

Banks centers her artistic practice around multimedia storytelling and social engagement. She said her mission for this exhibit is to uplift BIPOC voices and encourage a connection to nature in San Luis Obispo.

The Chief Curator with the SLO Museum of Art, Emma Saperstein said she commissioned Banks for the exhibit when she secured a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.

“As the conversations got deeper, both between the museum and April, we sort of approached it with a two-pronged process,” Saperstein said.

That included creating “Outlandish” and a unique public art sculpture funded by the city, on the museum’s lawn. The sculpture is an extension of the exhibit and is meant to be viewed as a protector of land and laborers in Yemaluna.

Courtney Haile is the founder and Executive Director of R.A.C.E Matters SLO and viewed the exhibit. She said she feels pride in Banks’ art being on the Central Coast because it increases diversity and brings a new perspective to our area.

“When we can feature black artists, that's always great and always a bonus in my eyes because we have such a low representation. Such a public piece of art that poses questions, invites a new perspective and outlook, [that’s] always a win,” Haile said.

The “Outlandish” exhibit will be featured at SLOMA until July 28th. Free tours will be open to the public every Saturday at 11 am.

More information about SLOMA and April Banks’ other projects is here.

The KCBX Arts Beat is made possible by a grant from the Community Foundation, San Luis Obispo County.

KCBX intern, Yalina Harris is currently working towards earning her Journalism degree at Cuesta College in San Luis Obispo. Yalina was previously managing editor for the Cuesta student paper. In her free time she enjoys hiking, reading, and hanging out at the beach.
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