In a vibrant section of downtown San Francisco lies The Museum of the African Diaspora. It’s an outpost of the Smithsonian Museum dedicated the art and culture of people of African descent worldwide. Did you know that? Did you also know that just a few steps away there’s a magnificent fountain dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.? We’re embarrassed to say that we didn’t. Until a recent visit to the city by the bay, during which we paid a visit to both of these wonderful places.
where is the museum of the african diaspora?
Nestled right in the heart of San Francisco’s bustling downtown, The Museum of the African Diaspora (the MoAD) is located on Mission Street at Third. It’s a wonderful airy space filled with provocative art and hopeful images of change. We highly recommend a visit.
who is this museum for?
It’s clear from the design of the museum itself that this is a place with open arms, intended to welcome all of us, and to remind us of our common ancestry.
Case in point: upon arrival, visitors are greeted with a profound question: “When did you realize that you are African?” It’s a nod to the fact that all of humanity is said to have originated in Africa – meaning that we are all, in fact, African.
It reminded us very much of the spirit of the new Nordic Museum in Seattle: a celebration of one culture that expands to include us all.
a family reunion
That opening question about being African is likely to land differently on people of color than on other visitors. As African-Americans, one of the joys of this museum is the sense of connection that we started to feel as we explored further.
For example, rounding the corner to head upstairs to the first gallery at the museum, we were greeted by a wall of faces that looked just like our own. The glass-enclosed light-saturated central staircase is home to the most wonderful wallpaper we’ve ever seen: a glorious wave of black family photos that seems to stretch all the way up to the sky.
We could have spent an hour just examining all of these images, spread before us like a family photo album: grandfathers, kids, newly-weds, artists – people from the South, from Africa, from the Caribbean, from China.
Look closely, and you’ll definitely see someone who reminds you of a beloved friend, colleague or family member. Be reminded of the concept of family, and how in its ideal state, it encompasses us all.
current exhibit 1
One of the exhibits on display when we visited was City with a River Running Through, a retrospective on the work and life of the late Ficre Ghebreyesus. He was the husband of poet laureate Elizabeth Alexander, who commemorated him in her 2016 memoir, The Light of the World.
current exhibit 2
Adjacent to this gallery was a emerging artists’ exhibition, Indira Allegra: B O D Y W A R P.
Warp is the vertical thread held under tension on a loom. It makes the act of weaving possible. In her work, Allegra explores weaving as a performance requiring a unique receptivity to the tensions extant in political and emotional spaces.
current exhibit 3
The top floor housed Second Look, Twice: Selections from the Collections of Jordan D. Schnitzer and His Family Foundation. This group show of 15 notable black artists includes works by Glenn Ligon, Martin Puryear, Kara Walker and Mickalene Thomas.
current exhibit 4
Back on the ground floor, we walked through the narrow hallway filled with an installation called I TOLD YOU WHO AM I by interdisciplinary artist Shushan Tesfuzigta.
an excellent book store
The ground floor of the Museum of the African Diaspora also houses a gift shop with a well-edited collection of novels, cookbooks, non-fiction, art books and kids books. Keep it in mind as holiday gift season approaches any of these would be perfect Christmas, Hanukkah or Kwanzaa gifts.
mlk jr memorial is just a short walk away
After you complete your visit to the MoAD, head toward the Yuerba Buena Arts Center and Garden, where you’ll find a magnificent memorial to the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
We went at dusk, and Golden Hour is definitely a good time to go.
Whether San Francisco is home for you, or very far from home, both of these magical spots will make you feel a deep connection to this city and its people. And to your brothers and sisters all over the world.
When did you first realize that you are African?
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