The natural wonders in Thacher Gallery

Nicole Dixon’s mixed-media work lines a wall in Thacher Gallery. PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Thacher Gallery’s latest exhibition, “All that you touch: art and ecology,” features artists whose creative work is inspired by their link to the natural world. As a whole, the exhibit focuses on artwork that symbolizes healing, personal identity, and geopolitical awareness, seen through a natural lens. Most of the artists brought these pieces to life during 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic began. 

Artist Nicole Dixon, an Oakland native and preschool teacher, expressed how essential her connection with nature is in the creation of her art. “As a Black woman and an artist, nature is both my teacher and my healer,” Dixon said. She used natural imagery to depict her experience as a Black woman in this world. Her piece, “The Axe Forgets, But The Tree Re-Members,” displays two figures resting on a slab of redwood. One figure represents an ancestor, and a gilded image symbolizes the tree of life above them. “I used a salvaged redwood slab to highlight the redwood’s process of growing new cells around its wounds, as a strategy for Black people to continue thriving while bearing scars and collective grief,” said Dixon. 

A point of importance for Dixon is reframing the way Black people are perceived in our society. “My work depicts Black identity, as I experience and witness it, so I hope viewers can see Black people as we truly are: spiritual, abundant, dynamic, powerful, brilliant, beautiful, rooted in culture, supported by ancestors, and natural as can be,” Dixon said.

Similarly, many of the artists in the exhibit were influenced by their own personal struggles. Barnali Ghosh, a landscape architect and activist, drew her inspiration from flowers and her identity as a South Asian immigrant. In her photographs, Happy Poppy and “Wild Iris, Ghosh took photos of herself wearing a traditional sari to symbolize the poppy and iris flowers.

A snapshot of Thacher Gallery’s latest exhibit: “All That You Touch: art and ecology.” PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

She described how her identity as a South Asian immigrant not only led to her activism but provoked another layer of meaning to her work. “It shocks you sometimes, when you’re standing at a bus stop and somebody walks by and says ‘Go home’,”Ghosh said. 

Experiences like the one Ghosh described illustrate her struggle with feelings of alienation. “It’s not fun to live continuously with the feeling of being othered, of being seen as a foreigner, of being stereotyped one way or the other and never being heard for who you are as a person because what you look like always comes first,” she said.

Ghosh’s artwork is an outlet and plays a significant role in her journey of self-acceptance. She hopes that her art inspires similar feelings for audiences. “I want people to walk away thinking that you can be joyful, even if you’ve gone through pain, even if you’re continuously going through pain.” 

Felicitas Fischer, a Bay Area dancer and USF alumna, wanted to create greater awareness around environmental issues. This inspired her to create a dance film, “Lungs of the Earth.” Fischer worked with Jaime Serra dos Santos as the sound designer and Conni McKenzie as the film’s director in order to bring the project to life. “Our piece is very much a call to action. We’re trying to bring awareness to a very specific environmental problem happening in the Amazon region of Brazil,” said Fischer. 

Barnali Ghosh’s photos on display in “All That You Touch: art and ecology.” PHOTO COURTESY OF BEAU TATTERSALL/SAN FRANCISCO FOGHORN

Fischer emphasized the importance of being aware of issues that affect communities across the globe. “It’s not just about the U.S. all the time,” said Fischer. “There’s a very common tendency to stay within our nation’s own problems but it’s important that we have a critical awareness that our problems really affect the rest of the world.”

“Lungs of the Earth” samples a speech from one of the Kayapo tribe leaders from the Amazon region, highlighting the value of uplifting Indigenous voices. Fischer said that real human stories and experiences cannot be found on Google when seeking awareness about these issues.

She added that to support Indigenous communities, society must uplift and encourage them artistically “because that is the way we pass down our stories. It’s the lifeline of our society, it’s how we function as people.”

“All that you touch: art and ecology” exhibition will run in Thacher Gallery through Nov. 7. 


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