Published 8:36 pm, Wednesday, May 17, 2017
Photo: Lea Suzuki, The Chronicle
Along with some colorful yarn adorning the fence outside the Old Mint building, another curiosity popped up in one of its windows along Mission Street this week: the Mississippi Flag, with Confederate emblem.
If you happened upon it, the flag may have caught you by surprise, but its presence has less to do with the Old Mint and more to do with the event happening inside: The San Francisco Art Institute is holding its annual MA/MFA art exhibition inside.
Artist (and SFAI student) Devan Tate is the person behind the flag being hung in the window of the Old Mint. Tate, 25, hails from Mississippi, and called the flag a “representation of my background.”
“I talk about trauma a lot and about the sanitation of history. History can be so sanitized and sterile that you have to forget the trauma that’s still living and breathing for the people that have to deal with it every day,” Tate said. “My family has to walk past these when they walk to the Capitol, or when they drive on bridges named after Confederate leaders, or when they pass my hometown in Mississippi, and they’re famous for its antebellum homes, and you drive past monuments of slavery because they were built by slaves. So for me, the flag represents all of that.
“The institutional side and also for me, it’s about putting it in the window, displaying it here, because we like to pretend that these types of views don’t exist in California. A lot of people have told me that things that I experience in the South are only in the South, and that’s definitely not the case. [Racism is] everywhere, it just manifests itself differently.”
Along with the Mississippi flag is Tate’s artwork and an actual reading corner, with two books that have children’s book-style illustrations, but confront serious, race-themed issues. One book tells the story of being a black person in an office workplace, and the other discusses micro-aggressions Tate has faced.
“I wanted to make this children’s book, ‘You Got Me F—ed Up.’ It’s about my profession, just a laundry list of micro-aggressions that are commonplace that has been said to me while I’ve been in this program,” Tate said.
“It was therapy for me to be able to say this out loud and share with my colleagues. Because sometimes people don’t know they’re being offensive, and sometimes people constantly repeat the things that are offensive, even after you’ve told them.”
Tate told SFGATE that the two books are meant to have a humor about them, despite discussing serious issues such as race.
“What I love about his books is they make hard issues digestible,” said Gia Brusa, Tate’s classmate at SFAI. “That’s what I love about the books, because they’re very simple, they’re a children’s book, — that’s how they’re constructed — but everything in the book is true and something that’s happened to Devan while at SFAI.
“[The books] show you the information just in front of you, as it is, for you to figure out, giving that information and that space to be read and spoken about it. The books they don’t simplify [race], but they’re a step towards allowing people to talk about it in a more constructive way than a critical way.”
San Francisco Art Institute MFAMA Exhibition. San Francisco Mint, 88 Fifth St. May 18-21, 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free. For more information, head to the SFAI events page here.