Faculty-Alumnus David Huffman's "Out of Bounds" at SFAC Gallery a "SHIFT" Toward Dialogue About Race in America

Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, "Bay Area Now 6" (video still)

Alumnus David Huffman (MFA 1998), who is a recently tenured assistant professor in CCA's undergraduate Painting/Drawing Program and Graduate Program in Fine Arts, is one of three featured artists in the current group exhibition SHIFT: Three Projects Constructing a New Dialogue About Race in America at the San Francisco Arts Commission Gallery (through December 10, 2011).

Shifting Demographics, Shifting Races

SHIFT is described as an exhibition that “pushes the public to think about our changing demographics and what role race plays in our post-millennial American circumstance.” Also featured are Bay Area artists Elizabeth Axtman [The Love Renegade #308: I Love You Keith Bardwell (Phase 1)] and Travis Somerville (Places I've Never Been), yet it is Huffman’s Out of Bounds, his first multimedia exhibition, that is positioned in the Main Gallery at 401 Van Ness Avenue.

"Diversity can be viewed as a social activism of inclusion," says Huffman, who is mixed race, "to include various groups of people who are normally rejected by prejudice, regardless of their capabilities. Out of Bounds includes works that examine various perspectives -- some of which might normally be rejected because of their racial affiliation. I think that diversity is also about broadening the spectrum of possibilities from a variety of capable peoples and ideas."

According to SFAC Gallery Program Director and SHIFT curator Meg Shiffler: “We’re not living in a post-race world; however, things are changing. According to the 2010 Census, 2.9 percent of Americans claim to be more than one race, which is up 32 percent from 2000.

“We are fast becoming a nation of mixed-race individuals, which broadens the dialogue about racial identity and politics immensely. The artists in this exhibition, each in their own way, present new insights and perspectives that implicate a living history and call for discourse around radical redefinition.”

Diversity at CCA: Faculty Plays Key Role

CCA’s diversity mission statement upholds the following; “As an educational and cultural institution, California College of the Arts has a responsibility to provide access and opportunities for all people, with special attention to supporting groups historically underrepresented in higher education."

To further its mission, the college established the President's Diversity Steering Group, composed of faculty and staff members, including David Huffman as an inaugural member, to prioritize and implement initiatives for the college's diversity goals. The group meets twice each semester and summer. Read more about the group's goals for CCA »

Shifting Practices

Huffman’s paintings have been included in group exhibitions at the Studio Museum in Harlem and Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco as well as solo exhibitions at Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco, (the gallery currently represents Huffman), The Renaissance in Santa Monica, and Watts Tower Art Center and Jan Baum Gallery in Los Angeles.

Yet for Out of Bounds the artist was encouraged to pursue several departures from his customary oil-on-canvass means of expression.

“Throughout my career as an artist, painting has been my primary practice,” admits Huffman. “Working with the Arts Commission Gallery has given me the opportunity to work in other mediums: large-scale sculpture, video installation, and sound as well as painting.”

For his first large-scale sculpture, the centerpiece of Out of Bounds, Huffman took events and objects from his painting world and created them in real life. He built a pyramid out of 650 basketballs and developed a SETI Sound Pulse, which is a broadcast signal to extraterrestrial intelligence, to accompany it. (Upon conclusion of the exhibition, the sculpture will be deconstructed and the basketballs donated to local charities.)

Traumanaut Tree Hugger is a video projection of Huffman in an Apollo 11 suit, hugging trees that are soon to be cut down in the Sierras. “I also explore the Afro-centric idea from the 1980s -- that the origin of the human species was black Africans. Analogous to this concept is the theory of dark matter and how it seeds galaxies and bodies of light in the universe.”

Despite using new approaches to convey his ideas about race and the need to examine how race is changing in America, Huffman also contributes to the exhibition using his traditional medium: “I have included one abstract painting that investigates this idea, which depicts thousands of small basketballs that behave like particles of dark matter seeding light in the painting. The idea that scientific and unscientific theory can be suspect depending on who you are, including who you are racially, underlies the show’s themes.”

Integrating Race Consideration into the Curriculum

While Huffman has committed himself to exploring race as it pertains to the college’s overall diversity mission statement, he separates that same commitment when it comes to what he teaches in the classroom, encouraging the dialogue to focus on the art first and the artist second.

"I do not bring in race as a theme in my teaching. Instead I support my students’ artistic practices by sharing art and ideas that are most pertinent to the work they are making and to the work they want to make, which may include artists of color. But I lead with the art, not the race of the artist."

About David Huffman

Group and solo exhibitions: the Studio Museum in Harlem; Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts, New Langton Arts, The Luggage Store, and Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco; de Saisset Museum at Santa Clara University; The Crocker Museum, Sacramento; and Santa Monica Museum of Art, The Renaissance, Watts Tower Art Center, and Jan Baum Gallery in Los Angeles.

Huffman is a recipient of the 2005 Artadia Foundation Award. His work has been reviewed and written about in Frieze, Artforum, Art Papers, Flash Art, the San Francisco Chronicle, the New York Times, the International Review of African American Art, NY Arts, Art Journal, and the San Francisco Bay Guardian.

David Huffman is currently represented by Patricia Sweetow Gallery in San Francisco.


Patrica Sweetow Gallery: David Huffman
Watch a Yerba Buena Center for the Arts video that highlights Huffman in Bay Area Now 6